Henry John Peters (September 16, 1924 – January 4, 2015) was an American professional baseball executive who held senior management positions for the Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles of Major League Baseball between 1965 and 1991. During his dozen years as general manager of the Orioles (1976–87), Baltimore won two American League pennants (in 1979 and 1983) and the 1983 World Series championship. Peters was named The Sporting News Executive of the Year after both pennant-winning seasons.
In addition, as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (1972–75), Peters was the chief executive of minor league baseball and helped it survive one of the worst crises in its history.
The native of St. Louis, Missouri, spent more than 40 years in organized baseball.
Peters served in the United States Army during World War II in the European Theater of Operations. After the war, he joined the St. Louis Browns (ancestors of the modern Baltimore Orioles) after answering a newspaper advertisement, and eventually worked his way into their scouting department. When the Browns left St. Louis for Baltimore after the 1953 season, Peters stayed in the Midwest. He spent 1954 as general manager of the Burlington Bees of the Class B Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League, then joined the front office of the Kansas City Athletics, newly transplanted from Philadelphia.
Kansas City Athletics
Peters spent more than a decade with Kansas City, and by 1960 he was in charge of the Athletics' scouting and minor league system. In the autumn of that year, Charlie Finley bought the team, and Peters became farm system director of the Cincinnati Reds. But after one season in Cincinnati, Peters returned to the Athletics and Finley, where he would work for the tempestuous owner for four full seasons and hold the title of general manager during the 1965 campaign. Kansas City finished last in 1965, but it possessed at the big-league level (Bert Campaneris, Dick Green and Catfish Hunter) and in its farm system (Sal Bando, Rollie Fingers, Blue Moon Odom, Gene Tenace and others) a core of players that—after the franchise moved to Oakland in 1968—would help the A's win three consecutive world championships from 1972–74.
President of minor league baseball
After leaving Finley and the Athletics, Peters joined the Indians as director of player personnel and assistant general manager working under Gabe Paul from 1966–71, but the Indians had only one successful season (1968) during that six-year time frame. He then served as the sixth president in the history of the National Association, the umbrella group that governs the minor leagues, during a critical period. The minors had been suffering from over 20 years of plunging attendance, contraction and decline, and were in danger of extinction. The short-season Northern League folded after the 1971 season, and other circuits like the Class A Carolina and Western Carolinas leagues, the short-season Northwest League and the Rookie-level Pioneer League were faced with operating with six or fewer teams.
"We had so many leagues that were in danger of going out of business," Peters said. His response was to encourage the creation of "co-op" teams that received players from multiple MLB clubs to keep the struggling leagues afloat. "I spent a lot of my time trying to convince Major League Baseball that they really needed these leagues. I’m proud that we were able to create clubs, getting two or three players from this team and a few from another team and so on, so that we could put together an unaffiliated team and each league could have at least four teams. Some of those leagues that were in trouble are now strong and prosperous."
After Frank Cashen's resignation in 1975, the Orioles—Peters' original organization—were in need of a new general manager. Peters accepted the challenge, taking the reins in Baltimore as baseball free agency was made possible by an arbitrator's ruling dismantling the reserve clause.
In his maiden season, 1976, Peters acted decisively with a flurry of trades with the Athletics and New York Yankees. Although one of his acquisitions, Reggie Jackson, played only one year as an Oriole before becoming a free agent himself (and a Yankee), Peters obtained future 18-game-winner Rudy May and three cornerstones of the Orioles' 1979 and 1983 pennant-winning teams: pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez, and catcher Rick Dempsey. The Baltimore farm system also would produce Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr., future Baseball Hall of Famers, and ace starting pitcher Mike Boddicker during Peters' tenure. But following the 1983 world championship, the Orioles went into decline, and after enduring their first back-to-back losing seasons in 1986–87 in almost 30 years, Peters was fired on October 5, 1987.
Less than a month later, on November 2, 1987, he returned to the Indians as their president and chief operating officer. Although the Indians never compiled a winning record during Peters' four full years in the job, he lay the foundation for the strong Cleveland teams of the 1990s, signing youngsters Jim Thome, Manny Ramírez and Charles Nagy, and trading for Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga. He also brought John Hart from Baltimore to the Indians' organization, and as Peters' hand-picked successor as the club's top baseball operations executive, Hart would lead the Indians through their period of sustained success that began with their move to Jacobs Field in 1994, including American League titles in 1995 and 1997.
Peters was married to the former Dorothy Kleimeier, with whom he had a daughter and a son, until her death in 2010. He died of complications from a stroke in Boca Raton, Florida on January 4, 2015, aged 90.
- Minor League Baseball official website
- Weber, Bruce (January 6, 2015). "Hank Peters, 90, Dies; Built Baseball Winners in Baltimore and Cleveland". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-06-08.
- "BaseballAmerica.com: Executive Database". Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Johnson, Lloyd, and Wolff, Miles, ed., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 3rd edition. Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007
- "Baseball executive Hank Peters dies". ESPN.com. Associated Press. January 4, 2015. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
- Klingaman, Mike (January 4, 2015). "Hank Peters, former Orioles GM, dies at 90". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
|Kansas City Athletics General Manager
| Succeeded by|
|Baltimore Orioles General Manager
| Succeeded by|
|Cleveland Indians President
| Succeeded by|
|Sporting News Major League Baseball Executive of the Year
| Succeeded by|