DETROIT — Longtime baseball executive Bill Lajoie, whose eye for talent helped build the Detroit Tigers team that won the 1984 World Series championship, died Tuesday. He was 76.
Tigers spokesman Brian Britten said the team first learned of Lajoie’s death from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lajoie had been working as a special assistant to the Pirates.
The Detroit News reported he died at his home near Sarasota, Fla. Britten said he couldn’t confirm the location or the cause of death.
“Bill played an integral role in building the Detroit Tigers into a world championship team in 1984 and a division title winner in 1987,” Tigers general manager David Dombrowski said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Bill was a respected and highly regarded baseball executive who made significant contributions to the Tigers franchise and the game of baseball.”
“Mr. Lajoie impacted the lives and careers of a countless number of players, scouts and front office executives,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. “He was a terrific evaluator of talent, an outstanding baseball man, a tremendous mentor and a better friend.”
Lajoie was born in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, played baseball at Western Michigan University and made it as far as Triple-A ball as an outfielder.
He joined the Tigers as a scout in 1968 and helped land the likes of future stars Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Willie Hernandez, Lance Parrish, Dan Petry, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
“I thought we had a good team going to spring training that year,” Lajoie said in an interview 15 years later. “But getting (pitcher) Willie (Hernandez) just before camp ended really added a lot.”
Hernandez had 32 saves, winning the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards that season.
Whitaker, who grew up in Martinsville, Va., was shy and quiet and hesitant to sign a professional contract because he didn’t have much of a wardrobe. Lajoie bought him two suits, and Whitaker signed.
“I roomed with him for 10 years in Lakeland, (Fla.),” Tigers manager Jim Leyland, long a manager in Detroit’s farm system, told The Detroit News. “He was a great teacher for me. We’d sit there and talk baseball, hours on end.
“I would write a lot of it down because he really knew the game. And he really knew talent. But his greatest knack was finding the pieces that completed the puzzle.”
Lajoie was scouting director and assistant general manager for the Tigers before coming general manager in 1984, a job he held till 1990.
Among his last moves at Detroit was the signing of Cecil Fielder as a free agent from Japan for the 1990 season. Fielder had 51 home runs that year.
After leaving Detroit, Lajoie served as an assistant for the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.