Unhappy on Orioles' farm, Gillick rises to amass Blue Jays' talent plantation

JOHN STEADMAN

October 16, 1992|By John Steadman

Advertising what he's going to do or pounding himself on the chest with gestures of self-aggrandizement have never been characteristics of Pat Gillick, who came to baseball as a Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect with a mesmerizing curve and a good enough fastball to attract more than casual attention. Under a hot spring training sun, he made a promise similar to what has been uttered ad infinitum.

"If I'm not in the major leagues in five more years, I'm quitting,he said. "I have other things I want to do instead of spending all my young years in the minors."

There's hardly a sportswriter in the world who hasn't heard thabefore, but Gillick was different. At age 26, he fulfilled his own prophecy. He left the field of play and headed in another direction.

Now the Toronto Blue Jays, because of Gillick's intellect anability to evaluate talent, are in the World Series. Gillick isn't an accident. He was up front when brain power was dispensed. At age 16, he graduated from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and four years later had a degree in business from the University of Southern California.

That's when he signed with the Orioles and spent the next five seasons in their farm system at such varied addresses as Stockton, Appleton, Little Rock, Elmira, Rochester and Vancouver. That playing background, plus his innate intelligence, has given him an edge over the rest of the crowd as the architect of a baseball team he has personally created.

Gillick, though, was equipped with more than mere baseball mentality. He was quiet, introspective, but not aloof. What was going on in the rest of the world interested him. His manager, Earl Weaver, then picking his way through the same minor-league vineyards, and some of Pat's teammates called him "Yellow Pages."

Why? He just seemed to have more knowledge on diverse subjects than anyone they ever met. Certainly anyone in a baseball uniform. Instead of sleeping until it was almost time to get up and leave for the ballpark, Gillick headed for public libraries early in the morning. While others might be trying to get over a hangover, Gillick was immersed in learning.

He also read newspapers from near and far and absorbed what && he perceived as "good books." His mind was retentive. And why not? He was "Yellow Pages" Gillick.

"I really liked him as a friend," said Barry Shetrone, who played with Gillick in the Orioles' organization. "He was plenty smart."

No doubt, Gillick could have been successful in any line of work. PTC There's no substitute for the kind of intelligence he has.

It's interesting, too, to realize he was born into a baseball family. His father, Larry, was a standout pitcher in the Pacific Coast League and later became sheriff of Butte County, Calif. When he died, broadcaster Paul Harvey, reviewing the senior Gillick's law-enforcement career, said the sheriff never tried to become the fastest gun in the west.

According to Harvey, the sheriff was known to have a pocketful ofstones, all shapes and sizes, and fired them for strikes at criminals who tried to flee from questioning or arrest. The man's sonwon't swear the story is true but says it has been told to him by what he considers reliable sources.

Since the Blue Jays were born in 1977, the club's every player trade and purchase has been under his jurisdiction. He was there from the outset of the expansion franchise. Peter Bavasi, first president of the Blue Jays, made an extraordinary admission, which became a rich compliment for Gillick.

It concerned Gillick's desire to deal pitcher Bill Singer to the New York Yankees for a then-unproven Ron Guidry. The Yankees said yes, but Bavasi nixed the transaction. He had never heard of Guidry, but Gillick had since he previously worked in scouting and player personnel for the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

"After that," said Bavasi, "I told him to just tell me how much money he needed to get a player and I'd give it to him. I probably fooled around with Pat's baseball operations too much but not enough to destroy the team."

Gillick was demeaned by some critics, those who wouldn't know the proverbial prospect from a suspect, and at one point was painted with a brush of criticism that described him as "Stand Pat" Gillick. But he never tried to make headlines, preferring instead to assess quietly what was needed in all situations and then initiate a move.

The Toronto Blue Jays wouldn't be in the World Series without him. Take a ticket on that. A great city and a superb franchise, located in the world's most innovative and luxurious ballpark, the SkyDome, truly deserve the guidance of as unobtrusive a genius as baseball has ever had. The name again: Pat Gillick.

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