Gillick makes a home run Orioles: Disappointed but not bitter about his three years here, the general manager quietly leaves his warehouse office for the last time.

October 17, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Pat Gillick, the eighth general manager in Orioles history, quietly slipped from town yesterday and returned to his Toronto home. Though Gillick's decision not to return for a fourth season with the club technically won't go into effect for another month, his office now belongs to an executive to be named.

Seated within a room stripped of personal effects, Gillick attended to last-minute details as media, agents, club employees and others within the industry stopped by or phoned their best wishes.

"Which is the brightest key?" Gillick asked his administrative assistant, Ellen Harrigan, while fumbling with a jangle that would impress a janitor. Ready to exit his third-floor office for the last time, Gillick had to know in order to return the key to his Fells Point condominium.

"I don't care. I'll give 'em all to them," Gillick quipped after a moment's frustration.

Gillick remains under contract until Nov. 26 and has made himself available to help the transition when his successor is named. The Orioles initially had intended to name their next general manager by yesterday, but the process will now extend into next week, according to those familiar with it.

"I'm just taking some vacation time I've saved up," said Gillick. "I don't plan on doing anything right away."

A handful of teams already have expressed interest in becoming Gillick's next stop, though he will not act until his contract officially expires after Thanksgiving.

Gillick, 61, slipped away quietly and on his own terms though admittedly disappointed by a 79-83 season and a tenure that failed to bring a World Series berth. Yesterday's departure was known by all for four weeks and by many for several months. Fittingly, Gillick walked away without bombast or bitterness. On Sept. 20, the same day Gillick officially announced he wouldn't return, Cal Ripken walked into Ray Miller's office and announced that he would sit. Gillick's announcement never saw the front page.

The Orioles finished 265-221 with a division title and two American League Championship Series appearances during Gillick's term, the club's winningest three years since 1983-85. The 1997 AL East title was the franchise's first in 14 years and its wire-to-wire run in first place was only the sixth in major-league history.

Still, Gillick pondered what might have been.

"When I came over here [in November 1995] it was our goal to get to the World Series. We got to the final four a couple of times, then in '98 for many reasons we didn't make it to the playoffs. I'm a little disappointed. I didn't feel like I got the job done," Gillick said, adding, "It's not a copout to say once you get to the playoffs it's a crapshoot. You look at this year and San Diego. Both Atlanta and Houston won 100 games, but the Padres end up in the World Series."

Gillick, who oversaw consecutive world championships with the 1992-93 Toronto Blue Jays, remains bruised by last year's ALCS six-game loss to the Cleveland Indians, a decidedly inferior team that benefited from breaks and the Orioles' nonexistent clutch hitting.

"In '96 we beat Cleveland [in the Division Series] when we never should have beaten them. Last year we should have beaten Cleveland. It's tough. But if you get to the playoffs at least you've gotten yourself in a position to have an opportunity," he said. "This year I feel a little unfulfilled. I feel like I'd still like to get back there."

A number of teams have already contacted him and rumors persist that he will remain in Toronto as president of the Blue Jays. If so, he isn't saying.

"I'm not going to retire. I'll keep saying it: I'm not going to retire," said Gillick.

Another general manager job is unlikely, at least for now. If he does not assume the Blue Jays' presidency, he might serve as a consultant or super scout. However, he denies any aversion to a heat-seeking office.

"I'm not tired of doing this," Gillick insisted, "but there aren't a lot of these positions available. If I don't want to retire and I want to do something else, I'm probably going to have to take a lesser position."

Early last season, majority owner Peter Angelos and chief operating officer Joe Foss attempted to negotiate an extension with Gillick; however, disagreements over club policy, including last year's ugly departure of manager Davey Johnson, prevented Gillick from accepting.

During the last several months, assistant general manager Kevin Malone served as a liaison between Gillick and Angelos. Gillick consistently refused comment about his relationship with the owner in recent months except to say he believed that Angelos had taken a disproportionate amount of criticism for the franchise's troubles.

Gillick, who has advocated a five-year plan for the Orioles, offered little about the club's future yesterday. Asked what he will miss the most, Gillick looked out his window facing an empty ballpark.

"I'm really going to miss the fans. From the bottom of my heart, I think the fans are fantastic. They're the best fans. They're very supportive. They're knowledgeable," he said. "I'll certainly miss them because they've been extremely good to me."

Moments later he picked up his hat, dropped off a key with Harrigan and walked away from the warehouse.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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