By now you’ve probably heard the news: Hank Peters, who served as the president and general manager of the Cleveland Indians from 1987 to 1991, died yesterday at the age of 90.
If all you did was look at the win-loss record of the Indians during his tenure as GM, you might think that Peters wasn’t very good at his job. During his time at the helm, the Indians never won more than 78 games in a season. In 1991, his final season, the Indians lost more than 100 games. But bear in mind that Peters took control of the Indians after the dismal 1987 season, in which the club went 61-101.
Having worked for the Indians as their farm director during an earlier dire period, from 1966 through 1971, Peters was aware that clubs like the Indians had to invest time and money in their farm system if they ever hoped to turn things around. According to Terry Pluto, Tribe owner Vernon Stouffer, who never seemed to have enough money to invest in his franchise, wanted to save money following the disastrous 102-loss 1971 season by slashing the farm budget. Knowing that such a move would doom the team, Peters resigned rather than agree to do Stouffer’s bidding.
Simlarly, when Peters became the team’s president and GM in 1987, his first instinct was to cut the team’s payroll, thus freeing up money to invest in the farm system. During Peters’s tenure, the Indians drafted and signed many players who helped the team put together a string of winning seasons from 1994 through 2001, players like Brian Giles, Charlie Nagy, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. Peters also convinced the Jacobs brothers, in 1989, to trade fan favorite Joe Carter to the San Diego Padres for Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Chris James.
Peters also had the foresight to recognize that when he took the job, he would not hold it for very long. Almost as soon as he was hired, he began to think about who would make a good replacement for him once his tenure was over. In John Hart, Peters found his man. Peters also recognized that Mike Hargrove had the goods to make an effective manager, and promoted Hargrove to that job shortly before he, Peters, stepped down in 1991 to make way for Hart. In short, the Indians’ mid-1990s renaissance simply would not have happened had Peters not done what he did, and for that Indians fans owe Peters a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.