A proven winner comes full circle Profile: Long before his title-winning Toronto tour, Pat Gillick was an O's farmhand sharing dugout with the likes of Weaver and Ripken Sr.

November 28, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It wouldn't be entirely accurate to call it a homecoming, but new Orioles general manager Pat Gillick -- like new manager Davey Johnson -- is no stranger to Baltimore or the baseball club that he will direct for at least the next three years.

Gillick, 58, once played in the Orioles' minor-league system. He played alongside Johnson at Single-A Elmira (N.Y.) in 1963. He was a teammate of Cal Ripken Sr.'s at Class B Fox Cities the season that Cal Jr. was born. He played under Earl Weaver and was a disciple of Paul Richards. Now he is the guy charged with putting the organization back in touch with its storied past.

And who better?

"He's just outstanding," said longtime Orioles official Fred Uhlman Sr. "It's like getting the first pitcher in the draft. It's like getting a player you know can't miss. He has an outstanding track record and he's an outstanding person."

So outstanding that the Orioles spent nearly two months trying to persuade him to come out of retirement, and finally succeeded in getting his signature on a three-year contract yesterday morning.

"This was a critical decision," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "This was the single biggest decision that a club can make on the baseball side. You're basically deciding your future."

But the decision was rooted in the past. Gillick was the architect of a Toronto Blue Jays expansion franchise that evolved into one of the most successful clubs of the 1980s and '90s. He twice was honored as Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year -- when the Blue Jays went to the playoffs in 1985 and then when they won their second straight World Series two years ago. He is so respected in baseball circles that he was recruited by both expansion franchises that were awarded earlier this year.

Longtime members of the Orioles' organization remember Gillick a hard-throwing pitcher who didn't quite have the control to break through with the pitching-rich Orioles. Orioles fans more likely remember him less fondly -- as general manager of the team that supplanted the Orioles as the dominant team in the American League East.

The Orioles ran off 18 straight winning seasons from 1968 to 1985, but gave way to an emerging Blue Jays team that finished above .500 for the first time in 1983 and didn't post another losing record until 1994. In between, Toronto won two world championships, five division titles and seemed to one-up the Orioles at every turn. Now Gillick would like to turn the tables.

"This is where I tried to start my career as a minor-league player in 1959," he said. "I never quite made it to Memorial Stadium, but it's nice to be back."

He didn't take any shortcuts to get here. Gillick's five-year

minor-league playing career ended when arm problems persuaded him to go back to school. He had graduated from Southern California with a degree in business and was about to )) enter a master's program when he was offered a job with the fledgling Houston Colt .45s, later the Astros.

"I got to know Eddie Robinson before he went to Houston," Gillick said, "and he called me out of the blue in 1963 and told me to come down to Texas. Things just went from there."

Gillick spent 10 years in the Astros' organization. He started out as assistant farm director and moved up through the organization to become director of scouting, before he was hired by the New York Yankees as coordinator of player development and scouting.

The expansion Blue Jays named him vice president of player personnel in 1976 and quickly promoted him to vice president of baseball operations. He is credited with taking the Jays from creation to contention in record time, but his management style is so team-oriented that he was reluctant to accept credit for the organization's great success -- even after a series of decisive moves put the club into position to win back-to-back World Series.

"I think that was rewarding for the organization," he said. "I know that sounds like a cliche, but we had about 25 people there who were with us from Day 1, so I was happy for the whole organization. That's the way I try to operate. Nobody works for somebody. They work with somebody."

That approach apparently led to his decision to retire after the 1994 season. The Blue Jays had crested and longtime assistant general manager Gord Ash was ready to take over. Gillick said he decided to step aside rather than allow another club to pluck Ash out of the Toronto front office.

"He had been with me for 10 years and he was getting contacted by other clubs," Gillick said. "It was time to step aside and give him a chance. Unfortunately, he stepped into a tough situation."

He got out at the right time. The Blue Jays finished last in 1995 and began dismantling the team to reduce their tremendous payroll. The club is up for sale and the future uncertain. Gillick had remained with the club as a consultant until he decided to take charge in Baltimore.

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