From the time of his playing days at Randolph-Macon College, where he earned All-State honors, Syd Thrift was always thinking about ways “to do things better.” After an injury abruptly ended Thrift’s short professional career as a southpaw pitcher and first baseman, it was his visionary innovations to the game that would make him a legend.
Throughout his career, Thrift has worked with the Oakland Athletics as Director of Player Personnel, the New York Yankees as Senior Vice-President of Baseball Operations, the Chicago Cubs as Assistant General Manager, and the Baltimore Orioles in various positions. He is probably best known for his success as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In Pittsburgh, Thrift performed one of the great franchise-rebuilding jobs in major league baseball, bringing the team from dead last in 1985, to a pennant contender in just three seasons. In 1988, the Pirates finished second behind the New York Mets and set an all-time Pittsburgh attendance record. In that same year, he was honored with two prestigious awards, becoming the first non-player to receive the Dapper Dan “Man of the Year” award. Then, Thrift was chosen Baseball’s General Manager of the Year” for his role in the success of the Pirates.
Due to the vision of Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals, a baseball academy was created where Thrift served as founding director of the recruiting and training operation. Much of his success was due to Thrift’s uncanny skill at evaluating and signing talent as well as his unorthodox methods of training players. Thrift and the Kansas City Academy staff discovered the now famous time-measured lead, and applied the aerodynamics of a baseball in flight to pitching and hitting. He used special equipment to train players for improved depth perception, and customized nutritional and conditioning programs for players both during the season and in the off-season, which enabled them to improve their performance level. The theories and techniques once considered off-the-wall by Thrift’s contemporaries are now standard practice throughout baseball at all levels, from amateur to professional.
In 1999, Orioles’ ownership designated him to direct the selection and training process of baseball players in Greece for the Olympics to be held in Athens in 2004. As the host country, Greece is required to field a team. Currently, there is no baseball program in Greece and Syd will be instrumental in the planning and formation of a team and a baseball facility in time for the Olympics.