Duquette, Thomas enjoy deep-rooted history
O's executive vice president, special assistant first crossed paths over 25 years ago
SARASOTA, Fla. -- There are two offices at the far end of the Orioles' spring administrative complex next to Ed Smith Stadium. The one on the right belongs to executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. The one on the left is occupied by special assistant Lee Thomas.
That proximity neatly reflects the closeness of two very different personalities who have become fast friends. Both were out of baseball when Duquette was hired on Nov. 11, 2011, to take over an O's team coming off four straight last-place finishes in the American League East. One of his first moves was to call Thomas.
"I knew Lee had a lot more baseball in him and that his experience as an executive would be a big asset to the Orioles and helpful to me. So we put the band back together again," Duquette said with a laugh earlier this week.
They took very different long and winding roads to get to these adjacent offices. In fact, they are outwardly just about as different as two people can be. Thomas is 78 years old. He played his first professional season for the Yankees' Class D Owensboro Oilers affiliate in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League in 1954, four years before Duquette was born, and went on to play eight seasons in the big leagues.
Duquette graduated from Amherst College, where he was a catcher, but he never played professionally. He's bookish, measured, reserved. Thomas is, well ...
"What's your nickname?" Duquette teased, knowing that it's "Mad Dog." Thomas is outgoing, personable, seems to know everybody in the game. "I'm more introspective. Everybody likes Lee around the industry. I'm not as outgoing, so people don't know me as well. So that's another complementary part of our relationship," Duquette said.
Responded Thomas: "I think he's good at that. He keeps his card face down as good as anybody I've seen. And he may be upset inside, but he doesn't show it nearly as much as some people do."
The chemistry between the two seems to be working. In their first year together with the Orioles, Baltimore went from 93 losses in 2011 to 93 wins in '12 and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, following that up with another winning season in '13.
As far as either can remember, they first crossed paths in 1987. Thomas was farm director for the Cardinals, Duquette had just been appointed to the same position for the Montreal Expos. Thomas became general manager of the Phillies in July 1988. Duquette was promoted to the same position with the Expos late in the 1991 season. The National League East rivals played each other six series a year in those days.
They did business together. Thomas traded catcher Darrin Fletcher to Duquette for reliever Barry Jones in 1991. And they competed.
"We would be going after a lot of the same players," Duquette recalled. "One of them that he got who turned out to be really good was Curt Schilling. Schilling was out of options with Houston. He was on the trade block and we were trying to get him.
"That deal was a key deal for me to learn from Lee. Because he got a pitcher, right? Lee, in all the deals that he made, he always got one extra arm in the deal. And that's always good advice. Lee was a mentor to me when I was younger."
Duquette moved on to become GM of the Boston Red Sox. One year, the pair co-hosted the annual dinner at the General Managers Meetings, becoming even closer in the process.
"I got fascinated because I started following Major League Baseball in 1967 with the Red Sox, with Tony Conigliaro. He caught everybody's attention in New England," Duquette said. "Then I looked it up, and Lee had played for the Red Sox. And I thought that was really cool. And then some of the guys he'd played with, they came to life. He told me about some of his experiences playing with the Red Sox.
"I was attracted to Lee because he was a clear thinker and could always express what was on his mind. There's no pretense. I looked up to him because he had played and then gotten into administration."
Thomas was let go by the Phillies after the 1987 season, and he spent a couple seasons scouting for Boston.
"You know the movie 'Moneyball'? There's a scene where Billy Beane gets a call from Scott Boras and says, 'Dan signed Johnny Damon.' Well, Dan didn't sign Johnny Damon. Lee Thomas did," Duquette said, laughing again.
Duquette left the Red Sox following the 2001 campaign, and he was out of professional baseball until he was hired by the O's. In the interim, he was involved in several baseball-related projects -- including owning a team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League that Thomas' son, Scott, played for one season.
"So we got a chance to see each other quite a bit that summer," Duquette said. "We maintained our relationship. Lee gave me a couple recommendations on teams that were looking for executives along the way. He always called and encouraged me to keep trying to get back into baseball. Which I appreciated."
Once it happened, there was never a doubt that he'd want Thomas to work with him. That, after all, is how close they are.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.