At age 76, baseball executive Lee Thomas proved age is just a number as he helped the Baltimore Orioles reached the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Thomas, from Peoria, Ill. and graduate of Beaumont High School in St. Louis, began his career with the famed 1961 New York Yankees featuring Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Thomas was lucky enough to have fellow outfielders the M&M boys show him the ropes throughout spring training and with the big club.
“I was fairly close with Mantle and Maris,” Thomas said. “They took me under their wing. They were great guys. One liked to go out and have fun and other one never left his room, and you know which ones I mean,” Thomas said with a smile.
Thomas wouldn’t stay in pinstripes for long. Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Angels at the beginning of the ’61 season and was not with the Bronx Bombers during the home run race that summer.
He ended his playing career in 1968, after which he worked in the front offices of the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. Thomas was the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies during 1993, when they won the National League pennant before losing in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.
In 2011, after four years away from the game, Thomas joined new GM Dan Duquette in the Oriole front office to help get the O’s to the playoffs in the tough AL East division.
“I got a call from Dan Duquette saying I’m going in for an interview with the Orioles,” said Thomas. “Then later I got a text saying we are back, and I knew we got the job.”
The team responded with an infusion of young players and newly acquired talent, and won 93 games making it to postseason play.
“We brought up Manny Machado at 20 years old,” Thomas said. “He turned our team around.”
“We’re thrilled to death in Baltimore with the success now,” said Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Legends Museum at Camden Yards. “The decision to bring up (Manny) Machado before most teams would have paid off big. This team is stacked with young arms now for the future.”
Jordan Tuwiner, founder of the blog “Orioles Nation,” noticed the difference Thomas and the GM made on the ’12 team.
“The trades and signings made by Thomas and Duquette throughout the entire year are what really made this team special,” said Tuwiner. “Duquette and Thomas traded for Jason Hammel and signed Wei-Yin Chen, who served as the team’s most reliable pitcher.”
Thomas gets a rush when a new piece is added to a club. “It’s an exciting thing when you can pull the trigger on a player,” Thomas said.
With this front office group, the Orioles could be flying high in the years to come.
“The mindset of the team is greatly different than it has been at any point over the last 15 years,” Tuwiner said. “Thomas and the rest of the front office demonstrated that they fully understand what kind of pieces and players a team needs to succeed in the toughest division in baseball.”
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