Orioles would be smart to talk Pat Gillick out of retirement

November 26, 1995|By John Steadman

If the Baltimore Orioles want to make a fit and proper selection as their next general manager, providing they offer sufficient autonomy, then they should remove all doubt and make another pitch for Pat Gillick, who has extraordinary capabilities and a record that can't be refuted or minimized.

Gillick is an absolute winner. He has been retired from the Toronto Blue Jays for a year and at age 58 is much too young to put himself voluntarily on the shelf.

There are indications that one reason the Orioles haven't filled the position is they still hold hope of getting Gillick and, even now, are pursuing him with diligence.

When Roland Hemond resigned as general manager, the Orioles made only a cursory inquiry about Gillick's availability and, not getting immediate encouragement, turned to reviewing a long list of possible successors.

Other clubs, meanwhile, besieged him to consider returning to baseball, including the Houston Astros and the two expansion teams, Tampa Bay and Arizona. Gillick declined without even asking the kind of contract that might be involved.

If he rejected those franchises, how could he possibly be interested in Baltimore and the Orioles?

The answer is that Baltimore could represent a continuation of the glory era he created in Toronto. There's money available with the Orioles to spend on major-league free agents and the proper development of a farm system. Team owner Peter Angelos isn't intimidated about the costs of player procurement, so that would give Gillick freedom to maneuver.

Gillick's strength is making judgments on talent, which is the most important asset any general manager can bring with him. As a self-proclaimed expert on Gillick (we've known him since we were both young boys), let it be said without fear of contradiction that it's not heresy to mention him in the same sentence with Branch Rickey and George Weiss when it comes to knowing how to construct a contender.

Intellectually, Gillick is near the head of the class. He graduated from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., at 16 and from the University of Southern California with a business degree at 20. He spent six years as a pitcher in the Orioles' system and would have been a major-leaguer had he been reasonably acquainted with the strike zone.

As a youngster at Elmira in the Eastern League, he was a teammate of Davey Johnson, the club's new manager. Both were then playing for Earl Weaver.

Angelos is supposedly considering Joe Klein, who has been a general manager of three major-league teams; John Barr, director of scouting with the New York Mets; and Kevin Malone, late of the Montreal Expos. But no decision has been made.

Klein, who graduated from Poly and lives in Sykesville, appears in line for some type of position in the Orioles' organization. Like Gillick, he makes excellent judgments on players, and every effort should be made to use those abilities as Angelos goes about reshaping the operation.

Gillick's life has been baseball. It could be said he was born into the game since his late father, Larry, was a standout pitcher in the Pacific Coast League. In the Orioles' system, Pat was at such diverse places as Stockton, Appleton, Little Rock, Elmira, Rochester and Vancouver.

Once in the Orioles' training camp, in an after-workout conversation, he said, "If I'm not in the big leagues by the time I'm 25, then I plan to quit and join the FBI. My application is already on file."

We told Gillick we had heard the same prediction 1,001 times but such a personal projection was rarely fulfilled by any baseball player. Still, he held closely to his game plan, leaving the playing side of baseball at 26 to join the Astros' front office, where he was a special scouting assistant to Paul Richards and Eddie Robinson.

Gillick didn't fulfill his goal of becoming an FBI agent, but does have the aura of an investigator, asking more questions than a newspaper reporter. Still, he isn't in the habit of tipping his hand. He makes moves when they are least expected, as happened when he invariably would bolster the Blue Jays in stretch drives with acquisitions that meant the difference in the pennant race.

From the formation of the Blue Jays, in 1977, until he took a career timeout, he was involved in every transaction the club completed. Even though Gillick was the Toronto general manager, he never left his roots -- fully realizing the importance of a minor-league system to the major-league club.

Winston Blenckstone, owner of the Hagerstown Suns, a Blue Jays farm club, said that in training camp Gillick's office is in the middle of the minor-league complex because he knows this is where the future is built. A young Blue Jays farmhand, catcher Kris Harmes, says it was astonishing to him that Gillick was able to recognize every player in the minor-league system and call them by their first and last names.

The Orioles' players, when he was a minor-leaguer, nicknamed him "Yellow Pages" because he knew everything from the latest best seller to ship arrivals to the night time temperature in Fond du Lac. He's what the Orioles need.

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