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Old 09-20-2006, 12:24 AM   #1
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Default Syd Thrift dies at 77

BALTIMORE -- Syd Thrift, a former general manger of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent nearly a half century in baseball, died at 77.

He underwent knee replacement surgery Monday in Milford, Del., and died that night, said the Baltimore Orioles, one of many teams for whom he worked. An autopsy will determine the cause of death.

"He was a great baseball man -- both on and off the field -- who dedicated his life to the game," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He was a personal friend of mine and I will miss him."

Thrift became GM of the Pirates in 1985 and gave Jim Leyland his start as a major league manager. In 1989, he went to the New York Yankees as senior vice president of baseball operations.

"Syd Thrift was passionate about the game of baseball," Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy said. "He will be remembered here in Pittsburgh as someone who greatly contributed to the building of the successful Pirates teams of the early 1990s."

Leyland said he talked to Thrift about two weeks ago and he "sounded fine." The Tigers manager said he was shocked to hear Thrift had passed away.

"We were talking about the team," Leyland said. "He'd see all the games. He had that [TV] package where he'd see a lot of our games.

"He was the first one to give me a chance."

Thrift's long baseball career began in 1949 when he joined the Yankees' minor league organization. Among the teams he worked for was the Kansas City Royals, where he founded their renowned baseball academy.

He worked in the Orioles' front office for eight seasons after joining the team in 1994. Five years later, he became the team's vice president of baseball operations, a job he held until 2002. After leaving the Orioles, he consulted for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until his retirement in 2004.

"He was an innovator. He wasn't afraid to take a chance," said Mike Flanagan, now the team's VP of baseball operations. After Thrift left, Flanagan and Jim Beattie shared the vacated role.

"It took two men to replace me," Thrift joked at the time.

Flanagan, a broadcaster and pitching coach with the team while Thrift was in the front office, said, "Syd worked at a lot of different places for a lot of different teams, and did a good job at it. He had a very interesting personality. He was colorful, and quotable."

Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo, speaking before Tuesday night's game at Tampa Bay, recalled Thrift's enthusiasm.

"Win, lose or draw, he was always trying to come up with new ideas and new things," he said. "He just had a lot of energy toward those goals. He was relentless trying to get it done."

Thrift pulled off trades that brought All-Stars Melvin Mora and B.J. Ryan to Baltimore. Mora was dealt to the New York Mets for shortstop Mike Bordick, who was signed by the Orioles during the following offseason. Ryan, now one of the best closers in the game, was obtained from Cincinnati for aging pitcher Juan Guzman.

Thrift, who during one stretch left baseball for nine years to work in real estate, lived in Kilmarnock, Va., and was hosting a syndicated weekly radio show at the time of his death.

He is survived by his wife, Dolly, sons Jim and Mark and five grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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