2024 Contemporary Baseball Era Committee Candidate: Hank Peters

Dick Raphael-USA TODAY Sports

This post is part of a series covering the 2024 Contemporary Baseball Era Committee Managers/Executives/Umpires ballot, covering candidates in those categories who made their greatest impact from 1980 to the present. For an introduction to the ballot, see here. The eight candidates will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Nashville on December 3, and anyone receiving at least 75% of the vote from the 16 committee members will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 21, 2024 along with any candidates elected by the BBWAA.

Hank Peters

In a career that spanned over four decades, from 1946 to ’91, Hank Peters helped lay the groundwork for two powerhouses: the mid-1970s A’s as an executive with their Kansas City forerunners, and the mid-1990s Cleveland squad as the team’s president and general manager from ’87-91. In between those stints, he served as the general manager of the Orioles from 1975 to ’87, navigating the dawn of free agency and making key trades that helped the team win at least 90 games six times, highlighted by a pennant in ’79 and a championship in ’83.

Peters wasn’t particularly colorful, but he was meticulous without being overbearing, with a keen eye for talent. From his Washington Post obituary in 2015: “Patient and unflappable, Mr. Peters did most of his work away from the public spotlight. The Baltimore Sun once likened his laid-back persona to that of a ‘rubber tree plant in an insurance office.'” Within the aforementioned Sun column, from 1985, his admirers found him to be “a rock,” “a great organizer, a great detail man,” and “the consummate baseball man.”

Peters is the only general manager among the eight candidates on this ballot, though Lou Piniella served in that role briefly with the Yankees. He’s one of only two executives on the ballot, along with former National League president Bill White, whose credentials also include stardom as a player and a stretch as a pioneering broadcaster.

Henry John Peters Jr. was born on September 16, 1924, in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up near Sportsman’s Park, which served as the home field for both the Cardinals and the Browns from 1920 until the latter team relocated to Baltimore and was renamed the Orioles in 1953 (foreshadowing!). While Peters played baseball growing up, he wasn’t good enough to play professionally. After joining the Army in March 1943, he spent three years in the service, including 27 months with infantry and armored divisions in England, France, and Germany.

After being discharged in 1946, Peters briefly attended business school before answering a newspaper ad for a job with the Browns organization. Farm director Jim McLaughlin hired him to be the assistant director of their minor-league camp in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He was promoted to assistant farm director in 1950, at which point the team had 13 separate affiliates, and retained that position when the team was sold to Bill Veeck the next year. But when the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season, the new ownership dismissed all of the front office besides McLaughlin (some sources say that Peters refused to move with the team).

Peters spent 1954 as the GM of the independent Burlington Bees of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, then was hired to be the farm director of the Kansas City Athletics, who had just moved from Philadelphia. At the time, the team employed only three scouts, operated on shoestring budgets, and was practically a farm team of the Yankees given the frequency of trades between the two clubs. When owner Arnold Johnson died, the A’s were sold to Charles O. Finley, who was even more of a penny-pincher than Johnson. Peters lasted just four months under the new regime before being fired for signing lefty Bill Landis for a $35,000 bonus without clearing it with Finley.

Peters spent one season with the Reds, reuniting with former Browns owner/GM Bill DeWitt, by then the Reds’ GM. With Finley realizing the error of his ways (a rarity), Peters was rehired as the A’s farm director in December 1961. In that capacity, he helped Bert Campaneris, whom the team had signed earlier that year but then released, secure a visa to come to the United States; he was one of the last players to leave Cuba before Castro’s regime cracked down on emigration, and the first key member of Oakland’s dynasty to join the organization. In 1964, the last year before the amateur draft was introduced, Peters signed future Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, as well as future All-Stars Blue Moon Odom and Joe Rudi. Like Campaneris, all four would play pivotal roles on the three-time champions.

Peters took over GM duties in 1965, and in the new draft oversaw the A’s selections of Rick Monday (the overall top pick), Sal Bando, and Gene Tenace. The last two were part of that championship core, as was Ken Holtzman, whom the A’s acquired from the Cubs in exchange for Monday in November 1971. After the A’s lost 103 games in 1965, Finley tried to hire Dodgers scouting director Al Campanis as GM, and when he was rebuffed, promoted Eddie Lopat above Peters, who saw the handwriting on the wall and took a job with Cleveland. In 1967 he became the team’s director of player personnel and minor league operations. While the team won 86 games in 1965, ownership slashed the team’s farm budget by one-third, guaranteeing years of misery. From 1969 through ’71, Cleveland lost 287 games.

At the end of the 1971 season, Peters became the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, overseeing all of the minor leagues. He drew praise for his four seasons in that role as he worked to strengthen the footing of the minors by advocating for local ownership of minor league teams, creating player development contracts, and resuscitating struggling circuits like the New York-Penn League and the Northwest League. He also proposed the establishment of standards for stadiums, lighting, and transportation, though some of those proved to be too expensive to implement at the time.

In November 1975, Peters accepted what had been almost an annual invitation from Frank Cashen to replace him as the Orioles’ executive vice president and GM, a move that would allow Cashen to become the senior VP of sales and marketing for Carling National Brewery, which was owned by Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger. The Orioles had been the AL’s preeminent powerhouse, winning three straight pennants under Earl Weaver from 1969-71 with a championship in the middle year. While they had won AL East titles in 1973 and ’74, they were a team in transition, with Frank Robinson traded away after the ’71 season, and Brooks Robinson aging.

A week before Opening Day, Peters pulled off a blockbuster. With free agency on the horizon in the wake of the Messersmith-McNally ruling, Finley was dismantling his team. In exchange for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell, Peters received not only Holtzman but also Reggie Jackson, plus a minor leaguer. Jackson held out, missing the team’s first 16 games, but finally agreed to a one-year, $200,000 deal. “I decided to report because of the consistent humanness and sensitivity toward me on the part of Hank Peters,” the slugger told reporters.

On June 15, Peters flipped Holtzman to the Yankees as part of a 10-player deal that brought in three players – catcher Rick Dempsey, starter Scott McGregor, and lefty reliever Tippy Martinez — who would play prominent roles on the Orioles’ next two pennant winners. The 1976 season wasn’t Baltimore’s year, however; the Orioles finished 88-74, second behind the Yankees, and Jackson departed to sign a five-year, $2.9 million deal with New York. It was a significant blow, as Peters hoped to retain Jackson. “[A]t the time, we didn’t even know what form the reserve system would take… I felt certain Jackson would report and that he was signable,” said Peters in 1979. The team also lost All-Star second baseman Bobby Grich and 20-game winner Wayne Garland to free agency. The whole saga underscored Peters’ belief that Orioles’ need to maintain a strong farm system given their modest revenues.

Despite the departures, the Orioles improved to 97 wins in 1977, with Doug DeCinces flourishing as the full-time third baseman and rookie Eddie Murray sharing DH and first base duties. After the season, Peters traded Rudy May, who had been acquired in the Yankees blockbuster, to the Expos in a six-player deal that brought in reliever Don Stanhouse and outfielder Gary Roenicke, two more players who would figure prominently on the 1979 team.

The 1978 team slipped to fourth in the AL East despite winning 90 games, but the next year they went 102-57 and won the division title. Roenicke (in a potent left field platoon with waiver pickup John Lowenstein), Murray, and Ken Singleton carried the offense, while McGregor was part of a strong five-man rotation and Stanhouse and Martinez the team’s two top relievers. In the postseason, the Orioles beat the Angels in the ALCS before squandering a three-games-to-one lead over the Pirates in a thrilling World Series, losing in seven games.

Behind the scenes, Peters’ groundwork to improve the Orioles’ radio and television deals paid off, helping attendance climb from 1.06 million in 1978 to 1.68 million in ’79. That boost and the mid-1979 sale of the team to Edward Bennett Williams put the team on firmer financial footing. The Sporting News named Peters its Executive of the Year for 1979.

The Orioles continued to play at a very high level while coming up just short, going 100-62 in 1980 but finishing three games behind the Yankees, then two games out in each half of the strike-torn ’81 season. The team overcame a 6-13 start to win 94 games in 1982, though they lost the division title to the Brewers on the final day of the season. That was the team’s last season under the 51-year-old Weaver (though he would come out of retirement) and the rookie campaign of shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., son of the longtime Orioles coach and a second-round draft pick in 1978, on Peters’ watch. Ripken, who was actually the team’s fourth pick of that draft, was announced as a pitcher-shortstop — many scouts had seen more upside in him on the mound — and only after internal debate (which included his father) was the decision made to have him try the infield first.

The 6-foot-4 Ripken reached the majors as a third baseman in August 1981, with the position opened for him by Peters’ trade of DeCinces to the Angels that winter. Within the organization, it was Weaver who most believed the big rookie could handle shortstop, but he didn’t get to move him there on a permanent basis until July 1, 1982. The rest is history, as Ripken won AL Rookie of the Year honors that year and his first of two MVP awards the next year, kicking off a Hall of Fame career. On the other hand, sixth-round 1978 pick Mike Boddicker, an undersized righty whom Weaver had been less keen on, broke through in 1983 under new manager Joe Altobelli, helping the Orioles win 98 games and the AL East. Boddicker won ALCS MVP honors on the strength of a 14-strikeout shutout of the White Sox, while 1979 draft pick Storm Davis and Martinez combined for a 10-inning shutout in the Game 4 clincher. The light-hitting Dempsey earned World Series MVP honors with five extra-base hits while shepherding the pitching staff to a 1.60 ERA, with standout contributions from McGregor and Boddicker. The Orioles won their first championship since 1970, and Peters again won Executive of the Year honors.

The rest of Peters’ tenure in Baltimore didn’t go so smoothly, as Williams asserted himself as a more hands-on owner. The Orioles sank to 85 wins in 1984 and 83 in ’85 after the Williams-driven additions of free agents Fred Lynn and Lee Lacy. In June 1985, with the team 29-26, the owner fired Altobelli and coaxed Weaver out of retirement. Under Weaver the team went 59-47 through August in 1986, then lost 42 of their final 56 games to finish 73-89, last in the division for the first time. Weaver re-retired and the senior Ripken replaced him, but the Orioles sank further to 67-95. Though the 63-year-old Peters had two years remaining on his contract, Williams fired him. “I know I didn’t get smart overnight, and I didn’t get dumb overnight either,” he said at his farewell press conference while also admitting he was “relieved to be relieved,” particularly given the owners’ intrusions.

Peters wasn’t out of work long. Cleveland, which had lost 101 games in 1987, hired him to serve as president and GM, laying the groundwork for future success. “When I took the job I told [owner] Dick Jacobs I would stay three or four years and that I didn’t expect to win during this period,” Peters later said. “But I said, ‘What I’ll try to do is give you the foundation so that you will someday become a winner.’ So he gave me a free hand, and I mean a free hand. He provided the money.”

Peters tapped the Orioles’ organization for front office talent, bringing with him ousted farm director Tom Giordano to be his director of baseball operations and Dan O’Dowd to be his farm director. A year later, he added John Hart, whom he had hired as a minor league manger in 1982 and who had risen to become the big club’s third base coach; the intent was to prepare him to take over GM duties. The team averaged 76 wins from 1988-90, then bottomed out to 57-105 in ’91, but the groundwork was indeed being laid. In June 1988, Peters chose future staff anchor and three-time All-Star Charles Nagy with the 17th pick of the draft and the next year found a future Hall of Famer in the 13th round in slugger Jim Thome. In December 1989, Peters sent Joe Carter to the Padres in exchange for future All-Stars Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga. In 1991, he tabbed future All-Star Manny Ramirez with the 13th pick and fired manager John McNamara, naming first base coach Mike Hargrove to replace him.

In September 1991, the 67-year-old Peters retired, handing the reins to Hart. The team would go on to flourish under Hart and Hargrove, with the aforementioned acquisitions playing pivotal roles first in snapping a seven-year streak of sub-.500 seasons in 1994 and then making six postseason appearances while winning two pennants from ’95-2001.

Peters, who died in 2015 at the age of 90, certainly led a very interesting and productive career that left its mark on three different franchises in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Is it a Hall of Fame career? The problem for Peters’ case is that the ranks of general manager are more than a little underrepresented in Cooperstown, in part because the position didn’t really come into focus until the second half of the 20th century. Of the 26 non-Negro League executives in the Hall, only Ed Barrow, Pat Gillick, Larry MacPhail, Branch Rickey, John Schuerholz and George Weiss are there primarily for what they did while fulfilling the duties of a GM (sometimes while holding fancier titles), with Gillick (2011) and Schuerholz (2017) the only ones from that group elected in this millennium.

That’s left a significant backlog, one created in part by pitting these executives against managers and long-retired players in the Veterans and Era Committee processes. That situation has only been partially alleviated by the recent format change, as pre-1980 executives are still lumped in with players and managers, including those from the Negro Leagues. Space doesn’t permit detailing the contributions of the likes of Buzzie Bavasi, Joe Brown, Joe Burke, Jim Campbell, Bing Devine, Bob Howsam, Dick O’Connell, Gabe Paul, John Quinn, and Cedric Tallis, but all are at least worthy of similar hearings to the one Peters is receiving, and only some have gotten them, albeit while being overshadowed on ballots by players and managers. This isn’t to suggest that all of the aforementioned execs belong in the Hall, but surely some do. Likewise when it comes to Cashen and Harry Dalton, both central in building the 1960s and ’70s Orioles before successful moves to other teams, Cashen as the GM of the ’80s Mets (who won it all in 1986), Dalton as the GM of the Brewers, who won their lone pennant in ’82.

I’m not at all opposed to including Peters in the Hall. I think he deserves to be mentioned among the ranks of the above. If all those men, many of whose teams won more pennants and championships, are on the outside looking in, it’s tougher to make the case that he should be enshrined, but if I had a ballot, I’d consider him for one of my three spots, albeit while expecting the Committee to gravitate towards more colorful managers such as Piniella and Jim Leyland.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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