Roy Hartsfield began managing at age 30 with the triple-A St. Paul Saints, but it would take 14 more minor-league seasons over 21 years across North America before he made it to the majors.
The expansion Toronto Blue Jays gave him that chance in 1977 and he took some lumps in his three years on the job.
"He sure did, and he did it with a smile," Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston said Wednesday.
"The philosophy from the beginning was to go with young players rather than veterans that weren't good enough so that you could have a group of players that could grow into their positions together.
"He ran our first spring training, filled out our first lineup card, managed our first win. It must have been a tremendous feeling for him as a baseball lifer to do that for a major-league team."
Hartsfield died at age 85 Saturday at his daughter's home in Ball Ground, Ga., according to the Bernhardt Funeral Home.
A second baseman, Hartsfield played in the majors from 1950 to '52 for the Boston Braves, finishing with a .273 career batting average and 13 homers.
He then moved on to coaching and managing, mostly in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. But it was his time managing Hawaii, the triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, that helped land him the managing gig in Toronto.
Peter Bavasi was the Padres GM at the time and when he went over to join the Blue Jays, he brought Hartsfield with him.
Having come off four years managing in Hawaii, the Chattahoochee, Ga., native must have been rubbing his eyes in disbelief when a snowstorm greeted the Blue Jays for their opening game in 1977.
"It didn't bother him one bit," said Beeston. "I think Roy would have played in a blizzard as opposed to a snowstorm."
The Blue Jays won that game but victories were hard to come by during the rest of his tenure. They were 54-107 in '77, 59-102 the next year and 53-109 the year after that.
"He was nice man who wanted the Blue Jays to do well right out of the gate," recalled Alan Ashby, who played for Hartsfield in the 1977 and '78 and is now the Blue Jays' radio analyst.
"When he would speak to us in meetings, he would use a lot of country-isms in his comments, very quaint stuff that would always make me smile internally."
Beeston remembered Hartsfield as a great story-teller who accumulated plenty of material over more than 40 years in professional baseball.
"He had that southern charm," said Beeston. "When he would tell that story, he had the charm of some of the old football coaches."
A memorial service will be held Saturday at Ellijay First United Methodist Church at 2 p.m.