Gillick’s HoF career has defied the odds

The job description for a baseball general manager is not one designed for longevity.

The demands are 24/7, the pace frenetic, the expectations cumbersome. Every owner wants a championship yesterday, with a minimum outlay of cash, and as few bodies on staff as possible.

There are issues with players, their agents and fans, not to mention constant focus from the media. The dollars at stake are astronomical, and one or two bad deals can set a franchise back for years, sometimes longer.

Patience is at a premium.

For nearly three decades, Pat Gillick handled the many different pushes and pulls on a big-league GM with remarkable skill, and enviable success.

With the Toronto Blue Jays, he helped build an organization from scratch en route to five American League East crowns and two World Series championships. With the Baltimore Orioles, he made two trips to the playoffs in three years. With the Seattle Mariners he built a team that won an AL record 116 games in 2001 and made two post-season trips in four seasons. With the Philadelphia Phillies, he won the National League East twice and the World Series in 2008.

That impressive body of work will be recognized Sunday when he’s inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, entering alongside Roberto Alomar, who was acquired by the Blue Jays in one of Gillick’s signature trades, and Bert Blyleven.

He’ll also become just the fourth executive to have primarily worked as a GM to be enshrined, joining Ed Barrow, Branch Rickey and George Weiss. It’s of little surprise that number is so low – very few in the job can adapt on the fly, find success, and stand the test of time.

"You need a lot of energy to do it," says Jim Beattie, a former Montreal Expos and Orioles general manager, now a pro scout with the Blue Jays. "It’s kind of a young man’s game these days with all of the technology that’s involved, all the information that’s coming at you all the time, how you manage that.

"I got into the front office after I played and for 16 years I never took a week vacation. I think most general managers will probably tell you the same thing these days, so there’s no down time, even between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s all the time that you have to be on to see if there’s a crack you can find to take advantage of.

"Pat still is that way. He has a ton of energy. That’s his passion. When it’s your passion you never feel like you go to work a day in your life."

Gillick retired as a GM after the 2008 championship at age 71 but remains with the Phillies as a senior adviser, regularly evaluating both amateur and professional players for GM Ruben Amaro Jr., and his staff.

His keen eye for talent remains the same, but what he values most in a player has changed over time.

"When I started out in the game I thought that the physical talent was 70 per cent and 30 per cent was makeup," says Gillick. "But now as I’ve been in it the last 30 years or so I think makeup probably is 60 per cent and ability is 40 per cent.

"The reason I say that is that these players spend so much time together during the season … if you go to the playoffs, you’re well over 200 games a year.

"If you really want to meet your goals, and the goal is to win a World Series, I think everybody has to be pulling in the right direction."


During his days as a minor-league pitcher in the Orioles system, Gillick’s nickname was Yellow Pages.

Why? "Because if you wanted to know anything," Earl Weaver once said, "all you had to do was ask Gillick."

Weaver managed the lefty in the minors and used to call him Wolley Segap, which was Yellow Pages backwards, but Gillick’s reputation was well earned. He would study the Sporting News and could recite the stats for various league-leaders in an instant.

The son of minor-league pitcher Larry Gillick, Pat was born in Chico, Calif., and lived all around the state as a youngster while his father bounced around. But when his parents split up, he ended up with his grandparents in the San Fernando Valley and they enrolled him at the Ridgewood Military Academy.

"It was a very kind of rigid program that we had, and then when I went on to Notre Dame (high school) it was carried on because at that time the Holy Cross Brothers ran it and there was no foolishness that went on," he recalls. "So consequently, I led a pretty structured childhood and there wasn’t much deviation from it, so I think that kind of got me pointed in the right direction."

Gillick eventually pitched at the University of Southern California and won a national title in 1958, and considered going into law before starting his career as a pro.

He pitched in several Canadian cities – including two Albertan stops in Vulcan and Granum, plus Vancouver – before calling it quits in 1963 after peaking at triple-A. The next year he began life off the field when he took a job as the assistant farm director of the Houston Colt .45’s.

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Gillick signed a Carlos Delgado as teenager.

Gillick’s brilliant memory served him in many ways.

"He was unbelievable at remembering things, especially phone numbers," recalls Howard Starkman, the longtime Blue Jays PR director who is now a vice-president with the club. "Scouts would be out, this is well before they had cellphones, at a high school game or a college game and he had somewhere in his mind the phone number for the grounds-crew guy in the shed. Or he’d tell a scout, this hotel is the best place to stay in this town, and by the way, here’s the phone number without looking it up.

"That was only an indication of how smart he was."

Of course it probably helped that Gillick often found use for all those phone numbers in his head. Blue Jays president Paul Beeston often jokes of how the GM never saw a phone he didn’t want to try.

"You’d go out to the bathroom or whatever and the next thing you’d know he’d be sitting at your desk in your office talking on your phone," Starkman adds with a grin. "And he’d make the long-distance calls on your phone so it would come in on your bill instead of his bill.

"And his conversations were always long."


From 1968-73, Gillick scouted for the Houston Astros and it was during that time he met Al LaMacchia and Bobby Mattick. Picking their brains relentlessly for information, Gillick expanded his own knowledge base and in 1974 he took over as scouting director for the Astros, and served in the same role for the New York Yankees in 1975-76.

The Blue Jays came calling in 1976 and he was essentially given the assistant GM’s job under Peter Bavasi, but he was still under contract to the Yankees. Owner George Steinbrenner didn’t make it easy for him to leave.

"I had about a month to go on my contract with the Yankees and they were getting ready for an expansion draft, and I asked to be let out early," Gillick recalls. "I asked our general manager, at that time it was Gabe Paul, and he finally talked to the people in Toronto and finally talked to Mr. Steinbrenner and asked him if I could be released.

"And he said if I gave him some guarantees, at that time we were doing things by telegram, that I wouldn’t take any players or I wouldn’t take any of his personnel with him I could, and I gave him the guarantee.

"I said give me the language that you would like me to use. He gave me the language, I sent it to him and it wasn’t good enough. And I said, ‘well, you gave me the language, that’s what you asked me to send on the telegram.’

And he said, ‘well, send this one and I sent it again.’ and he still wouldn’t release me.

"Then finally a third time I said, ‘Either let me out or I’m going to talk to the press and see what’s going on here.’ So then I got a release."

Finally making it to the Blue Jays in time for the inaugural season in 1977, Gillick was essentially the GM with Bavasi overseeing his moves.

For the most part he was left alone, but Bavasi overruled him once that first year, preventing him from dealing away Bill Singer to the Yankees for a young left-hander named Ron Guidry.

"Bill Singer was our opening day starter, he’d won 20 games (for the Dodgers in 1969 and Angels in 1973), he was our only $100,000 player our first year, but he was basically broken down by then," says Starkman. "Pat had sort of made the deal, he knew Guidry because he’d been in the Yankees system and Bavasi turned him down because he was afraid the media would say why are we getting rid of our one big name. It was a bad move, and after that Bavasi basically told him, ‘I won’t interfere.’"

Guidry won 16 games in 1977 and 170 in all over a 14-year big-league career. Singer was 2-8 with a 6.79 ERA in 13 games in ’77, his last season in the majors.


The masterstroke for Gillick in Toronto was the Dec. 5, 1990 blockbuster trade with San Diego that brought second baseman Alomar and right-fielder Joe Carter to the Blue Jays and sent first baseman Fred McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez to the Padres.

The deal initially played to mixed reviews – Gillick quips that his wife Doris ordered him home before he screwed up the team any worse – partly because such monumental trades are so rare.

"That kind of calibre of trade takes big balls as we would say in Texas, and certainly Pat had them," says former Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber. "You’re either going to look great or you’re not and if you give away two proven players, especially players people liked, not only did they do well here but they were liked, you’re climbing uphill. But Pat knew what he was doing."

The Blue Jays had won the AL East twice over the previous six years and had been in the mix the other four – the collapse at the end of the 1987 season remains painful for Gillick – with McGriff and Fernandez being key parts of that success.

But changing the core also allowed the club to exorcise some ghosts of past failures, even though the goal started out far simpler.

"We were looking for a right handed hitter," says Gillick. "We had John Olerud who could play first base and so he and Freddy would either have to play first base and DH, and so we just thought, well, we might be better getting a right-handed hitter in our lineup, so consequently that was the intention.

"We probably would have done a McGriff for Carter one-for-one but it was the third suggestion by San Diego that I asked them if they would talk about Alomar. And they said, well, if you would talk about Fernandez and so that’s the one that got going."

The Blue Jays won the AL East again in 1991 but lost the ALCS in five games to Minnesota, prompting further changes. That off-season Jack Morris and Dave Winfield were signed as free agents to further bolster the club, and on Aug. 27, 1992, Gillick pulled another rabbit from his hat when David Cone snuck through waivers and he got him for second baseman Jeff Kent and outfielder Ryan Thompson.

"To me he kind of put us over the hump, and got us where we had to go," says Gillick. "That was a funny deal. Once in a blue moon a guy will slip through waivers, and he slipped through. We made a call and they came back to us and said, ‘Well, we would be prepared to move Cone, but this is what the deal has to be. You know, we’re not going to negotiate if you aren’t prepared to do this deal.’

"We thought about it and we said, you know, David Cone is a guy that we think can put us over the hump. And at the same time, it kind of deflates your competition if you can do something like that. Psychologically, I think it has that effect on the people that are pursuing you."

The Blue Jays went on to win their first World Series title – helped along by Alomar’s pivotal home run in Game 4 of the ALCS against Oakland – and would repeat again the next year.


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Gillick won his third World Series in 2008.

Those who worked closely with Gillick remember him as warm, thoughtful and emotional.

Starkman recalls how when a player was being released, Gillick would often be on the verge of tears. Beeston once cracked that Gillick cried every time Olerud hit a single.

But he also had a tremendous poker face, one that could leave the person across from him feeling unsure of themselves.

"You never heard anything from Pat, very quiet, went about his business, and quite frankly, he sacred the bejeebies out of me because you couldn’t tell whether he was happy or whether he was mad, whether he was glad for you or what the deal was," says Gruber. "It was always a challenge with Pat because of his nature like that. But the best thing about him was that he was so knowledgeable."

Gillick was also not a person to cross.

In the spring of 1997, the Expos put catcher Tim Laker on waivers and Gillick, then with the Orioles, claimed him. In his first spring at-bat with his new team, Laker homered and then hobbled around the bases.

Soon after, Gillick was on the phone with Beattie, and "he was a little upset."

"He was a very honest guy filled with integrity," says Beattie, who was entering his third year as GM at the time. "I was a young general manager and you’re not supposed to put an injured player on waivers. I put the guy on waivers, he had been playing with us, but he had just come off being hurt.

"So Pat called me up and asked me about it and I said, ‘Honestly Pat, all I know is that our trainers told me he was ready to go and he was playing. I’ll take him back if you want me too.’ He said, ‘No, no, we’ll keep him, but you shouldn’t be putting guys like that on waivers.’ It was a lesson for a young general manager to learn, your word is your bond and when you do anything that isn’t totally 100 per cent, it just comes back to bite you. You don’t want to burn anybody else."

The other major thing people remember about working with Gillick was his penchant for meetings.

"Oh, he loved to have meetings – and they were long," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel says with a smirk. "At the same time he also liked to cover all the bases dot all the I’s and cross the T’s. He’s that kind of guy."

Manuel says Gillick didn’t usually do very much of the talking during those meetings.

"As a person he’s a listener and a good listener," says Manuel. "I think what happens is once you get to know him, it creates a winning attitude and he is an attitude kind of guy. He likes players with attitudes. He likes talent – but he likes players that have some attitude.

"The guys he picked up… chemistry and attitude were definitely a big part of it."


The biggest change in the work of a GM that Gillick noticed during his time in the role was how quickly ownership groups have come to expect results.

As an expansion team, the Blue Jays had a built-in period of time to work with, and it took nine seasons before they broke through with their first AL East title. Following six straight losing years at the outset, his Toronto teams would put up 11 straight winning years.

In Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, there was pressure to win immediately and he delivered. But for the vast majority of GMs, it’s not that easy.

"It takes time to develop franchises, and it’s very difficult to be patient," Gillick says. "I just feel there’s an impatience on the part of ownership – naturally because of the prices of these franchises. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, we’ll get them in three or four years,’ it was almost like we get them immediately. So to me, that was one of the bigger changes."

That’s no longer his problem, of course.

Although he’s said it before and changed his mind, Gillick insists that at 73 he’s no longer interested in serving as a GM. He’s happy with all he’s accomplished and his work as an adviser keeps him busy.

But, he isn’t shutting the door on a return to a more prominent role in baseball down the road.

"I would consider coming back as president of a club, but as a general manager, I mean I really capped the thing off with being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a GM," says Gillick. "So, I mean as a president I would certainly consider that if it was the right situation, but as a general manager, right now, I think that I’m happy, I’m content, and as I’ve told you many times before, I’m very humbled and very honoured by my induction (this) Sunday."

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