Thrift was a part-time scout for the Yankees and Pirates while working as a high-school teacher from 1953 to 1956, and became the Pirates’ scouting supervisor in 1957. He left the Pirates after the 1967 season to join the Royals, first as scouting director and later as director of the Royals Baseball Academy, which produced 14 ML players. After two years with the A’s, he entered the real-estate business, and in 1981 he spotted Bobby Bonilla while conducting a baseball clinic and recommended him to the Pirates.
He returned to the Pirates as senior vice-president and GM in 1985 with the club in last place and devastated by a drug scandal. By 1988 the club had returned to respectability and finished second to the Mets with a nucleus of excellent young players. Thrift was fired after the season in a dispute with club ownership. He spent most of 1989 as the Yankees’ GM until fired by owner George Steinbrenner. During his scouting days, he was instrumental in signing Don Money, Al Oliver, Woody Fryman, and Bob Robertson.