Gillick, who built champ in Toronto, to run O's New general manager coaxed by Johnson to end retirement

November 28, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Davey Johnson hasn't managed a single game for the Orioles, and already he's made a big move -- luring perhaps the most respected executive in baseball to oversee the team.

Pat Gillick, the general manager who built the Toronto Blue Jays into two-time world champions, signed a three-year contract to be general manager of the Orioles yesterday. "He's at the very peak of his profession," said Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz.

And Johnson, named Orioles manager less than a month ago, is largely responsible.

"Davey was important to this whole thing happening," Gillick said yesterday.

Gillick, 58, repeatedly told Orioles officials he was not interested in replacing Roland Hemond, who resigned Oct. 20 as general manager. Several times, owner Peter Angelos appeared close to choosing between former Montreal Expos general manager Kevin Malone and former Detroit Tigers GM Joe Klein.

But on Nov. 15, Johnson ran into Gillick at the major-league general managers' meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. He and Gillick broke into professional baseball in the Orioles organization, Gillick as a left-handed pitcher. They played together in 1963, at Single-A Elmira (N.Y.).

Johnson encouraged his old friend to think again about joining the Orioles. "Davey said to me, 'Hey, why don't you reconsider your position and come along and work with us?' " Gillick said. "It was Davey's energy that got me [interested]."

Two weeks later, Gillick became Johnson's boss. After meeting with Angelos Nov. 20, he called the Orioles owner on Friday and said he wanted the job. Gillick held his first organizational meeting yesterday, only minutes before signing his contract. Gillick will be paid about $750,000 per year, with incentives based on the performance of the club, according to a league source.

He also reached agreement with Angelos on how the club will be operated. Angelos and Gillick will reach an accord on what the player salary budget should be (Gillick said he's thinking about $40 million for the 1996 team, maybe more) and then Gillick essentially will be responsible for the rest, Angelos and Gillick said.

Gillick will run the baseball operations, and Angelos holds veto power. Said Gillick, "As I told Peter, he made a $170 million investment in this team, and there's nothing wrong with him calling and offering suggestions. It might be a good suggestion."

Angelos said: "It's his baby, within the parameters of what a general manager does, as set by ownership. Obviously, we'll determine . . . together what those parameters will be.

"He has all the leeway a general manager should have, and probably more. I don't tell the GM who to get, or the manager who to play. That's just a bum rap. . . . He knows that. He knows his business, and I understand how an organization should be run -- not necessarily in my knowledge of the game. I know where the divisions are."

Gillick said yesterday that he doesn't think the Orioles will pursue free-agent slugger Ron Gant, a player Angelos told Hemond to sign in summer 1994.

Told of Gillick's comment yesterday, Angelos said, "That's up to him."

A club source said Gillick is expected to negotiate player contracts, a responsibility ceded to club counsel when Hemond was general manager.

"He is someone of high competence and with an established record for success," Angelos said. "There's no question baseball people around the country consider Gillick one of two or three of the best general managers who has appeared in the last 20 years."

Houston Astros president Tal Smith said: "It bodes well for the Orioles and for baseball. It's a credit to the persistence of Peter Angelos and the Orioles they were able to coax him out of retirement. He's a superb baseball executive at the top of his profession. He's the best."

As they began their search for a general manager in September, there seemed virtually no chance the Orioles would sign Gillick, who had been contacted by numerous teams since he retired as Toronto's GM after the 1994 season.

One of the early candidates was former San Diego Padres GM Randy Smith. According to baseball sources, Gillick strongly discouraged Smith from taking the Orioles job, if offered. Gillick apparently had heard the charges that Angelos interfered with his general manager.

But before Smith took the Tigers GM job, he interviewed with Angelos and club counsel Russell Smouse, and said he was surprised by how much he liked the Orioles owner -- information that he passed on to Gillick.

Smouse began calling Gillick in October. Would Gillick be interested in becoming GM of the Orioles, Smouse asked. No, Gillick said. Smouse and Gillick talked several more times, and Gillick continued to say no.

By the end of October, Smouse stopped calling, and Angelos appeared close to picking between Malone and Klein. But Angelos delayed the decision several times. "I didn't want to abandon the effort [on Gillick]," Angelos said last night, "and as long as it looked like Pat could be persuaded, I thought we should try to bring him here."

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