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A few words on Harry Dalton

One of the brightest lights from Orioles yesteryear has gone out. Harry Dalton, general manager of the Orioles from 1965 to 1971, died Sunday at age 77 of complications from Parkinson's disease. The Sun's Mike Klingaman has written a review of Dalton's career in baseball. MLB.com has the Associated Press story. Dalton served in the Oriole organization for 18 years and also directed the California Angels from 1972 to 1977 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1978 to 1991.

Leader of the pack

Dalton completed the Orioles' rise from young contender to championship-winning powerhouse with two pivotal moves. The first, the trade that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore in December 1965, came just days after Dalton received the title of director of player personnel, effectively making him the general manager. Every O's fan knows what happened after that: the very next year, Robinson became the clubhouse leader and won the Triple Crown and the American League MVP, and the Orioles won their first pennant and took the World Series over the Dodgers. The players Cincinnati got in return? Starting pitcher Milt Pappas (a minor star) and two players long since forgotten: screwball-throwing reliever Jack Baldschun and 22-year-old outfielder Dick Simpson, a prospect who never lived up to his promise. (As Dalton would later say, “not every phenom phenominates.”) That trade changed the fortunes of the organization, and most fans and analysts would say it was the best swap in the club's history.

Dalton's second franchise-altering move was his hiring of Earl Weaver to replace Hank Bauer as manager of the O's in July 1968. Early reaction to the change was mixed, as Bauer had led the club to a title just two seasons before, and the Orioles were in third place (albeit 10½ games out of first) at the time of his firing. But Dalton had been waiting to give Weaver a shot to manage the O's for several years, dating back to when Dalton was in charge of Baltimore's farm system and Weaver was managing the Orioles' minor-league affiliates to winning records. And Dalton's judgment was right, as Weaver turned out to be the finest manager the club has had.

Dalton also played a large role in building and maintaining the club's strong scouting and development regime, which was critical to the Orioles' run of success in the '60s and '70s. Dalton broke in with the team as an assistant farm director in 1953 and moved up to farm director in 1961. The cadre of baseball men he hired and cultivated became known as "The Dalton Gang" and was responsible for acquiring key players such as Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, and Paul Blair. Unfortunately for the O's, many of those scouts and administrators followed Dalton out of Baltimore and eventually brought success to other organizations, most notably the Brewers.

On the basis of the two aforementioned moves and the club's four pennants in his six seasons as GM, a strong argument can be made that Dalton was the greatest general manager in Orioles history. The O's have had several capable front-office heads, including Paul Richards, Lee MacPhail, Frank Cashen, Hank Peters, Roland Hemond, and Pat Gillick, but Dalton's achievements stand out from even that talented group. Dalton was recognized as Executive of the Year by The Sporting News in 1970 and again in 1982 for his work with the Brewers.

More about Dalton and his work can be found in books about the history of the Orioles and baseball. Three examples: John Eisenberg's From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles has many first-hand quotes about the Dalton era in Baltimore, including a few from Dalton himself; Ross Newhan's Anaheim Angels: A Complete History includes details about Dalton's years with the Angels; and Daniel Okrent's Nine Innings tells how the Dalton Gang regrouped to bring a contender to Milwaukee. (Note: purchases made from Amazon.com after following the links from this site earn the Warehouse an infinitesimal commission that helps pay for the running of the site.)


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