In Toronto, he built an expansion team into one of baseball’s best organizations (winning 86 or more games for 11 straight seasons), culminating in five division titles and two World Series championships. In Baltimore, he worked for an impatient owner who wanted his team to compete right away – Gillick delivered two consecutive ALCS appearances, the Orioles’ only postseasons between 1983 and 2012.
In Seattle, he was tasked with trading one of the game’s best players and then watching another superstar leave as a free agent a year later. Despite this, his Mariners teams won over 90 games all four of his years at the helm and an all-time record 116 in 2001. At his final stop, in Philadelphia, he took over a good team that had not been able to get over the hump and into the playoffs. Gillick’s Phillies made the postseason in his second year and then won the World Series in 2008, the team’s first in 28 years. A few days later, he retired to an advisory role.
Gillick’s approach was to make sure he had great scouts and then to widen his talent search to nontraditional avenues. As he put it: “One needs to fish in many waters.” In Toronto, Gillick and his longtime friend Epy Guerrero were at the forefront of creating an identifiable presence in the Dominican Republic. He also looked for underappreciated opportunities with multisport athletes. His success in the mostly ignored Rule 5 draft of veteran minor leaguers was legendary; no one else approached his success. His skill forced teams to be much smarter about protecting their players from this draft. Moreover, Gillick used free agency to perfection in Baltimore and Seattle – in both places he quickly reloaded franchises with mostly barren minor-league systems. With the latter organization, he also signed the first hitter from Japan to star in the major leagues, Ichiro Suzuki, along with a first-rate reliever, Kaz Sasaki.
Lawrence Patrick David Gillick was born to George Lawrence “Larry” Gillick and Thelma (Daniels) Gillick on August 22, 1937, in Chico, California. His mother, a minor silent-movie screen actress, and his father, a pitcher for several seasons in the Pacific Coast League who later became the sheriff of Butte County, California, separated when he was a baby. Gillick and his mother moved into her parents’ home in Van Nuys, California, where he was mainly raised by his maternal grandparents.
Gillick’s grandfather sent him to Ridgewood Military Academy in Woodland Hills, where he excelled in both baseball and football. On the gridiron, Gillick played center and snapped the ball to quarterback Bobby Beathard, later to gain fame as general manager of the NFL’s Washington football team during their Super Bowl years in the 1980s. He graduated at 16 and enrolled at LA Valley Junior College, later transferring to USC under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux. In Gillick’s 1958 senior season, the Trojans, featuring future big-league stars Don Buford and Ron Fairly, won the College World Series. Dedeaux later related that Gillick “remembered everything I told him.”1 Over the years his incredible memory and recall became a recurring theme in his colleagues’ descriptions of him. Some bestowed on him the nickname “wolley segap,” which is “yellow pages” spelled backward.2
Gillick graduated from USC with a business degree, but the left-handed hurler wanted to try professional baseball first, pitching semiprofessionally in Canada, before signing with the Baltimore Orioles organization in 1959. He topped out at Triple A, and after the 1963 season, having just turned 26, Gillick returned to school, possibly to become a high-school coach. Eddie Robinson, the farm director of the Houston Colt .45s, intervened, however. Robinson, who had known Gillick from his time in the Orioles organization, offered him a job as his assistant in Houston.
As the southernmost team in the majors, Houston had already developed a Latin American presence, and Gillick, moved into a scouting role, spent much of his time combing the area for ballplayers. In the fall of 1967 Gillick was in the Dominican Republic when part-time scout Epy Guerrero introduced him to 16-year-old César Cedeño, whom they quickly signed. Gillick and the Astros later hired Guerrero as a full-time scout, and the two worked together for the next 28 years in three different organizations.
In August 1974 Tal Smith, with whom Gillick had worked in Houston, brought Gillick to the Yankees as coordinator of player development and scouting. Two years later, Toronto team president and top baseball operations executive Peter Bavasi, who was building out a front office for his expansion franchise, hired Gillick as head of player personnel and his second in command. In the expansion draft the Blue Jays emphasized younger pitchers (nine of their first 14 selections) while also mixing in a few well-known veterans. They drafted two players, pitcher Jim Clancy and catcher Ernie Whitt, who would become All-Stars and play prominent roles on the franchise’s first division winner many years later.
Surprisingly, the Blue Jays also drafted Rico Carty, an aging slugger with bad knees, from the Cleveland Indians. “What do we need Carty for?” Bavasi asked Gillick before they made the pick. “Rico was Mr. Wahoo,” Gillick told him. After a blank stare from Bavasi, Gillick continued. “The Indians Man of the Year. Let’s take him. In Cleveland the writers and fans will kill the team if they lose Carty. Then they’ll have to trade and get Rico back.” Sure enough, in trading Carty back to Cleveland he extracted young catcher Rick Cerone, who played another 16 years in the big leagues.3
To fill their organization, Bavasi and Gillick cast a wide net for players. “There are five or six rivers flowing into one river – fish in all of them,” Gillick said, describing his philosophy in finding players.4 One river involved trading with other major-league teams, and Gillick was always on the lookout for unappreciated young talent. Two of his early deals landed shortstop Alfredo Griffin and second baseman Damaso Garcia. Griffin won the 1979 Rookie of the Year Award, and the two made up the Blue Jays’ double-play combination for several years.
Gillick once again teamed with Epy Guerrero. In 1977, using borrowed money, Guerrero spent $9,000 on 18 acres and some cinder-block buildings outside of Santo Domingo. He built a ballpark and created a rudimentary baseball school for youngsters. Several years later the Blue Jays began to fund the operation, expand it, and run it year-round.5 Guerrero helped the Blue Jays sign several top Dominican players, enrich the organizational environment for Latin players, and identify worthwhile trade and draft targets. Other organizations soon followed, but Toronto established a prominent presence in the country, one that provided an advantage for a decade or more.
In the fall of 1977, Gillick exploited a little-used “river” when he selected first baseman Willie Upshaw, whom he and Guerrero knew from the Yankees organization, in the Rule 5 draft. Over the years Gillick mastered the Rule 5 draft to uncover several valuable contributors, including George Bell, Manny Lee, Jim Gott, and Kelly Gruber. Gillick was also willing to take risks with multisport athletes, accommodating them in ways other teams might not have. In 1977 Gillick drafted multisport prep star Danny Ainge in the 15th round. Two years later Toronto drafted prep quarterback and baseball catcher Jay Schroeder in the first round, paying a $100,000 bonus and allowing him to play college football at UCLA.
Despite their poor showing on the field in 1977, this first season was widely viewed as a triumph for baseball in Toronto. The Blue Jays’ attendance of 1.7 million surpassed expectations and ranked fourth in the American League. For his success, the Toronto and Montreal baseball writers named Bavasi baseball’s Man of the Year in Canada.6 In recognition of the team’s success, the board promoted Bavasi to president and Gillick to VP of baseball operations, effectively making him GM.
While Toronto was fielding poor teams at the major-league level, Gillick was expending his energies creating the team he hoped would someday contend. In Toronto’s first amateur draft in 1977, he selected Illinois prep outfielder Jesse Barfield. The next year he nabbed high-school first baseman Lloyd Moseby, whom Toronto converted into an outfielder, and Dave Stieb, who had starred at Southern Illinois. Stieb hoped to play the outfield, but after Gillick met his asking price, he agreed to switch to the mound.7
Gillick gained additional control over baseball operations when Bavasi was forced out after the disappointing 1981 season. Feeling the team should be ready to take a step toward contention, Gillick hired manager Bobby Cox, who had managed in the Yankees system while Gillick was there and had just been released as manager by the Braves.
Gillick continued to promote his prospects and make trades to solidify the positions not sufficiently addressed by the farm system. He traded veteran first baseman John Mayberry to the Yankees to open a spot for Upshaw, while Cox gave starting jobs to Barfield (right field) and Moseby (center field). Gillick also acquired two valuable platoon players: third baseman Rance Mulliniks and catcher Buck Martinez (obtained during the 1981 season). With his remarkably young team ready to break through, after the season Gillick acquired two older players – Cliff Johnson and Jorge Orta – to platoon at designated hitter.
Gillick also traded for 30-year-old speedster Dave Collins to play left field, a trade he later labeled one of his favorites, not because of Collins, but for the additional prospect he coaxed out of the Yankees. Gillick initially negotiated with Bill Bergesch, the latest general manager in the Yankees’ ever-changing and chaotic front office. The Yankees desperately sought Toronto’s relief ace Dale Murray, and after several rounds of negotiations, Gillick agreed to take outfielder Dave Collins and pitcher Mike Morgan in exchange. But like any savvy trader, he wanted an additional prospect, particularly one with power. Gillick and his scouts liked 18-year-old first baseman Fred McGriff, still in Rookie ball, but didn’t mention him right away for fear the Yankees would ask for more. Instead Gillick mentioned Dan Pasqua and Don Mattingly, two prospects he knew the Yankees didn’t want to surrender. Finally, George Steinbrenner stepped in and called Gillick, telling him that he would have to take McGriff as the third player in the deal or there wouldn’t be one. Gillick coyly said that he needed to check with his scouts and would call back in 15 minutes. When he did so, he got the player he wanted.8
In 1983 the Blue Jays won 89 games with a deep and strong club, winning 89 games the next season as well. In 1985 the Blue Jays broke through with a 99-62 record to win the highly competitive AL East and the franchise’s first division title. To bolster the bullpen, Gillick again took advantage of an unconventional source. For a few years in the 1980s, teams that lost a free agent (as the Blue Jays had lost Cliff Johnson) could select from a pool of players made available by teams that signed free agents. As compensation for losing Johnson, the Jays had selected Tom Henke, a young, hard-throwing relief pitcher who had yet to break through with the Rangers. Promoted late in the season, Henke ended the year with 13 saves, blowing just one, and an ERA of 2.03. In the 1985 American League Championship Series against Kansas City, the first year the Series expanded from best of five to best of seven, Toronto won three of the first four games. Then the offense went cold, and Kansas City prevailed in seven games.
After the season, Bobby Cox jumped to the Braves, and Gillick promoted third-base coach Jimy Williams, a natural choice. Otherwise Gillick returned almost the same team that fell one game short of the World Series. Over the next three years the Blue Jays won between 86 and 96 games, but never enough to win the division. During this period Gillick earned the moniker “Stand Pat” for his perceived reluctance to make trades or sign free agents to shake up his club. In fact, he did not make a single trade in 1988. Gillick was substantively inactive again before the 1989 season, but with the team at 9-16 on April 30, he finally made a deal, sending Barfield to the Yankees for left-handed pitcher Al Leiter.
Shortly thereafter, Gillick sacked Williams and promoted batting coach Cito Gaston. The team responded with a 77-49 record after the change, enough to win the division by two games. More significantly for the long-term future of the club, on June 5 the Blue Jays opened SkyDome (now Rogers Centre), the start of what was to become a baseball stadium boom in North America. Helped immeasurably by their new ballpark, over the next five years Toronto consistently ranked among baseball’s top three teams in attendance.
Gillick remained creative and aggressive in landing future stars. In the 1989 amateur draft he selected Washington State pitcher-first baseman John Olerud in the third round. As a sophomore in 1988, Olerud was named Baseball America’s college player of the year. Before his junior season, however, Olerud underwent surgery for a brain aneurism, putting his future in doubt. Olerud played that spring but told scouts he would return to college for his senior season. Gillick selected him anyway, visiting him nine times before Olerud finally signed a contract. Along with a $300,000 bonus, Gillick agreed to start him in the major leagues.
For nine seasons, from 1983 to 1991, the Blue Jays had been remarkably consistent, winning at least 86 games every season and capturing three division titles. Gillick had integrated a number of young stars in this period, one or two at a time, while continuing to win. Eight years into the run of solid seasons, the team could still boast a core of players not yet past their prime: Bell, shortstop Tony Fernandez, Henke, McGriff, reliever Duane Ward, Olerud, lefty David Wells, and catcher Pat Borders. Now 54, Gillick had been running the Blue Jays front office for 14 years and had experienced some health issues. He told ownership he intended to retire in three years, imposing a personal deadline as well a franchise-based one on winning the division again.9 Toronto became much more active on the trade and free-agent fronts.
Early in the 1990 winter meetings, Gillick traded outfielder Junior Felix to the Angels for 28-year-old Devon White, one of baseball’s best defensive center fielders (a deal that also included several less notable players). Three days later, he made much larger headlines when he swapped McGriff and Fernandez, two of his best players, to San Diego for second baseman Roberto Alomar and left fielder Joe Carter. McGriff and Fernandez would be missed, but the 31-year-old Carter was a valuable run-producer and Alomar, the best player in the deal, was a great offensive and defensive player and still only 23. Olerud took over at first base and replaced McGriff’s production, while Manny Lee shifted from second to shortstop to complete the infield.
In the 1991-92 offseason, Gillick made his first significant foray into the free-agent market, by signing 37-year-old Twins pitcher Jack Morris, a five-time All-Star fresh off a 10-inning shutout to win Game Seven of the World Series, and aging Angels slugger Dave Winfield. To reinforce their rotation for the 1992 stretch run, Gillick acquired free-agent-to-be David Cone for three players. Gillick later reflected on the trade: “One of the guys [we gave up] probably is a marginal Hall of Famer, Jeff Kent. We thought about it and said, ‘David Cone is a guy we think can get us over the hump,’ and at the same time a deal like that kind of deflates your competition.”10 The 1992 Blue Jays won 96 games and their fourth division title, before finally breaking through in the ALCS, then beating the Atlanta Braves in six games to give Canada its first-ever World Series championship.
Gillick’s strategy of signing or dealing for short-term solutions worked because he had a young core to build around and the money to find new solutions when the old ones left or declined. After the 1992 season, Gillick was faced with just this problem when seven key Blue Jays became free agents: Jimmy Key, Cone, Henke, Winfield, Carter, Lee, and left fielder Candy Maldonado. Of the seven, Gillick re-signed only Carter.
Though he had entered the free-agent market a year earlier, Gillick did not compete for the best mid-career players because he would not offer contracts longer than three years. He had hoped to re-sign Key, but the pitcher inked a four-year deal with the Yankees. Cone took three years from the Royals but received a $9 million signing bonus that Gillick would not match.11 Instead Gillick signed short-term players in their mid-30s, landing veterans Dave Stewart to bolster the pitching staff and Paul Molitor to replace Winfield at DH. The team also had a couple of prospects ready for regular roles: starting pitcher Pat Hentgen and third baseman Ed Sprague. The Toronto core, however, had gotten older.
Toronto’s reliance on veteran players can be seen in the team’s increasing payroll. After ranking 19th in 1991, the team jumped to the game’s highest payroll in 1992, further increasing payroll the next year.12 To Gillick’s credit, the money was well spent; he and his scouts correctly identified veterans – particularly Winfield, Morris, Molitor, Stewart, and Carter – who still offered valuable production. In 1993 Gillick landed outfielder Rickey Henderson at midseason to solidify the outfield and leadoff spot of an already formidable team. The Blue Jays finished 95-67 to win the division easily, and then dispatched the White Sox and Phillies to capture their second world championship. Gillick reconfirmed after the World Series that 1994 would be his last season in Toronto.
After the 1995 season, Gillick joined the Orioles, a team managed by his friend Davey Johnson. Owner Peter Angelos offered a three-year contract for $2.4 million, one of the highest packages ever for a general manager. Moreover, Angelos promised Gillick complete freedom to run the baseball side of the organization. “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, he knows that.”13 Not everyone was convinced. “It’s silly to believe that Angelos will simply sit back and watch Gillick run the operations without a few suggestions here and there,” wrote sportswriter Bob Nightengale.14 Angelos was also willing to spend money to build out a winning team.
The challenge ahead of Gillick was similar to that of his final years in Toronto: get into the playoffs by building on the team’s revenue advantage and solid talent base. Like in his later stops, Gillick did not bring an entourage with him; he evaluated the front-office staff just as he did his players and came to recognize that many were sound baseball men.
Gillick inherited a team with several excellent players, including first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., catcher Chris Hoiles, outfielders Bobby Bonilla and Brady Anderson, and pitchers Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson. The team’s two biggest major-league deficiencies were at second and third base and the balance of its pitching staff, without much potential help from a farm system ranked 24th of 28 teams by Baseball America.
Gillick filled many of these holes quickly and effectively, while still holding to the three-year contract limit he had used in Toronto. He signed free agents Robbie Alomar, his old Toronto standout, to play second, and Milwaukee veteran B.J. Surhoff to play third. To shore up the bullpen, he signed Randy Myers, and Roger McDowell.15 Finally, to make up for the loss of departing free-agent hurler Kevin Brown, Gillick traded young outfielder Curtis Goodwin to the Reds for David Wells, another ex-Blue Jay.
Although many of these moves worked out quite well, the Orioles were playing just .500 ball in late July 1996, and Gillick wanted to cash in a couple of his veterans for younger players. Angelos stepped in and vetoed a couple of trades, telling Gillick it was not a baseball decision but one that concerned his relationship with the city and the fans. Angelos’s meddling clearly stung, but Gillick pivoted, now looking to bolster the club for the stretch run. Accordingly, he traded pitcher Kent Mercker to the Indians for aging but still effective DH Eddie Murray, and acquired slugging third baseman Todd Zeile, allowing Surhoff to fill a hole in left field. Gillick’s biggest frustration was that he couldn’t land a front-line starter.
Even without an additional ace, the team rebounded over the last two months of the season to finish 88-74, four games behind the Yankees but good enough to earn the AL’s wild card. The Orioles overcame a mediocre rotation by slugging a then-record 257 home runs. They defeated defending AL champion Cleveland to reach their first league championship series in 14 years, before falling to the Yankees.
The Orioles were a good team, though every key regular other than Alomar and outfielder Jeff Hammonds was over 30. Gillick wanted to pursue younger players, but Angelos insisted that they not sacrifice the talent on the present team. The Orioles lost both Bonilla and Wells to free agency after the season, and Gillick responded by signing another of his old Toronto favorites, Jimmy Key, to replace Wells, and veteran Eric Davis to replace Bonilla. He also signed shortstop Mike Bordick, paving the path for Johnson to move Ripken to third base.16 Gillick’s moves generally played out well in 1997. The Orioles finished 98-64, the American League’s best record. The team dispatched Seattle in the Division Series before falling to Cleveland in six games in the LCS.
Gillick also was caught between his owner and manager, who had been sparring for two years. Gillick reportedly brokered a truce, but an incensed Angelos accepted Johnson’s resignation when he threatened to quit without an extension.17 Angelos named pitching coach Ray Miller the new manager, and Gillick, finding himself as somewhat of a bystander in baseball matters, likely had no interest in staying beyond the remaining year of his own deal.
With his aging team, Gillick once again went back to the free-agent well for 1998, but this time his signings were over-the-hill veterans who did not produce. Thirty-year-old Roberto Alomar was the youngest player of the 11 Orioles who received 200 at-bats. The team fell to 79-83 in 1998 with the highest payroll in baseball, and after the season Gillick resigned. In his three years with the Orioles, he had performed the job he had been hired to do. Angelos wanted to postpone a rebuild so that his team could win, and Gillick put together a team that played in two consecutive Championship Series, their first postseason appearances since 1983.
Gillick spent the 1999 season outside of major-league baseball, enjoying what he called a “sabbatical.”18 But another team soon came calling. In Seattle, the Mariners had recently opened Safeco Field and wanted a proven GM to give the city a winning ballclub. Gillick accepted the GM job and was given an expanded budget to restock with free agents.
One of Gillick’s first chores, though, was to address the situation with his franchise’s all-time greatest player. In November 1999 Ken Griffey Jr. told Gillick and owner Howard Lincoln that he planned to leave as a free agent after the 2000 season and asked to be traded. Wanting to avoid potential disruption from a disgruntled superstar, the Mariners reluctantly agreed. As a so-called 10/5 player (a 10-year veteran, including five with his current team), Griffey had the right to approve any trade. When Griffey gave Gillick a list of only four teams to which he was willing to be dealt, the outfielder greatly hampered Gillick’s leverage. He ended up trading Griffey to his hometown Reds for center fielder Mike Cameron, pitcher Brett Tomko, and two minor leaguers. Of the four, only Cameron, who turned in four excellent seasons in Seattle, proved a valuable addition.
In Seattle Gillick fished a new river, signing Japanese relief pitcher Kaz Sasaki in December 1999. A few days later, he secured one of baseball’s best left-handed relievers, Arthur Rhodes, with a four-year deal, one of the few times he inked a contract longer than three years.19 Gillick bolstered his starting staff by adding free agent Aaron Sele. Turning to the offense, Gillick landed one of his favorites, first baseman John Olerud. He also signed infielder-outfielder Mark McLemore, a veteran with much-needed on-base skills. Finally, the club signed utility outfielder Stan Javier to bolster the bench. The team rebounded to 91 wins and returned to the playoffs, where they beat the White Sox in the Division Series before losing the ALCS to the Yankees.
Gillick’s second offseason in Seattle might have been even more dramatic than his first. The overriding story, once again, was the disposition of a Mariners superstar, this time free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Though the Mariners hoped to keep him, the Texas Rangers landed Rodriguez with a 10-year, $252 million contract, well beyond the terms of any previous baseball contract. Meanwhile, Gillick turned back to Japan, signing Ichiro Suzuki, major-league baseball’s first Japanese position player. In December Gillick reinforced his bullpen by signing skilled setup man Jeff Nelson and improved the infield by inking veteran second baseman Bret Boone. The Mariners exploded out of the gate in 2001 and finished with 116 wins, setting the AL single-season wins record and tying the 1906 Chicago Cubs’ major-league record. In the playoffs, the Mariners squeaked by the Indians three games to two in the Division Series, before falling once again to the Yankees in the ALCS, a disappointing end to a historic season.
The 2001 Mariners dramatically highlight how free agency could be used as a tool for assembling a team. Of their 18 most significant players, only Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone (who was traded away and later re-signed as a free agent) were products of the Mariners farm system. Just seven of these players were on the roster during the 1999 season. Gillick signed nine free agents during the two subsequent offseasons. Several other players were acquired as an indirect result of free agency, in the forced trades of Randy Johnson and Griffey.
One of the pitfalls of this approach is that free-market players are generally nearing or past age 30, since they must have accrued six years of service time. For that reason, they often need to be replaced quickly, requiring either a productive farm system or continually guessing correctly in a risky marketplace. Gillick lost his magic touch during the 2001-02 offseason. He acquired three players to shore up his three weakest offensive positions, but none of them made an impact. Even with an aging squad and a less than stellar offseason, the Mariners were 60-36 on July 18 with a four-game lead in the division. But in the end the Mariners fell back to 93 wins and a third-place finish. Gillick still believed he could deliver a title to Seattle and re-upped with the team for one more year at the helm. The team again won 93 games but fell short of the playoffs.
Though Gillick hoped to rebuild the farm system during his years in Seattle, that goal was secondary to delivering a title. He was hampered by the loss of draft choices from his free-agent signings, another pitfall of relying heavily on free agency during an era with an onerous draft-choice penalty for signing free agents. In fact, the Mariners had only one first-round draft choice during his four years at the helm and failed to sign him (John Mayberry Jr.). Gillick’s scouts remained active internationally, and the team landed four impact players (career WAR over 10) for the minor-league system during Gillick’s tenure.
In November 2005 Phillies President Dave Montgomery turned to Gillick to reprise his success in Baltimore and Seattle: get a team with a new stadium and high expectations deep into the playoffs. The Phillies possessed several young stars who had recently graduated from the team’s farm system, most notably slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, left fielder Pat Burrell, and pitcher Brett Myers. “My challenge,” Gillick said, “is to try and coax five more wins out of this team and get us into the playoffs. Once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen.”20 Gillick often reacquired players he had on previous clubs, and that offseason his two most productive signings were Arthur Rhodes and Ryan Franklin, players he had at earlier stops.
The 2006 season started disappointingly. Despite the call-up of future ace Cole Hamels in May, the team was below .500 in July, and Gillick looked to shake up the team. At the trading deadline he swapped star right fielder Bobby Abreu along with pitcher Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for four players, none of whom ever panned out. But Gillick felt dealing Abreu opened up some payroll flexibility and transformed the team’s leadership.21 Several weeks later he swapped a couple of nondescript minor leaguers for another old favorite, veteran hurler Jamie Moyer. Mainly because the team began playing up to its talent level, the Phillies rebounded over the second half to win 85 games.
After the season Gillick used some of the money freed up from the Abreu trade to sign several free agents, most of whom performed below expectations. In his most successful move, Gillick signed free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth, who had been injured for a year and a half. The team rebounded from its disappointing 2006 season due mainly to the development of its young position players. It was enough to win 89 games and, thanks to a collapse by the New York Mets in late September, the NL East title.
After the Phillies were swept in the Division Series, Gillick went back to work. He traded a package of players to Houston for closer Brad Lidge, allowing the Phillies to return Myers to the starting rotation. Lidge responded with a historic season, saving 41 games in 41 save opportunities with an ERA of 1.95. The team also benefited from several lesser moves. Free agent signing J.C. Romero proved a reliable lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Another free agent, third baseman Pedro Feliz, wasn’t great but a marked improvement over the 2007 hot-corner contingent. At midseason Gillick acquired pitcher Joe Blanton, who provided solid rotation depth down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The 2008 squad won 92 games, just three more than it had in 2007. But it was enough: The team won 13 of its last 16 to capture the division by three games. In the postseason, the Phillies won each series, losing only one game in each round, beating the Brewers, the Dodgers, and ultimately the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.
With his three-year contract up after 2008 and his third world championship, Gillick decided it was time to retire. He was 71 years old and had succeeded with a fourth organization, fully validating his credentials as a master team builder. Gillick’s extraordinary success as an executive can be credited in part to his adventurousness, to his willingness to discover new ways of finding players. His exploitation of the Rule 5 draft remains unprecedented, and likely led to teams being much more careful about whom they left unprotected. His inroads into the Dominican Republic in the 1980s changed the game, as one look at the All-Star rosters and league leaderboards can attest. His acquisition of Japanese stars in Seattle, especially Ichiro Suzuki, ended any misconceptions Americans might have had about the talent there.
Over Gillick’s outstanding career as a baseball executive, a career that would be recognized in 2011 by induction into the Hall of Fame, he built one World Series champion from the ground up while at his other three stops he overcame a different challenge: taking talented but flawed teams deep into the playoffs. Both undertakings required him to call on many of the same qualities: managing people, judging talent, and expanding his “many rivers” philosophy in finding players.
1 Frank Fitzpatrick, “The Education of Pat Gillick,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 2011: C1, C5.
2 Philippe van Rjndt and Patrick Blednick, Fungo Blues: An Uncontrolled Look at the Toronto Blue Jays (Toronto: Seal, 1985), 196.
3 Terry Pluto, The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump (New York: Fireside, 1995), 262.
4 Pat Gillick, interview with Levitt, October 2, 2012.
5 William Plummer, “Baseball Scout Epy Guerrero Looks for Rough Diamonds Amid Hunger and Poverty,” People, April 10, 1989; Jim Sandoval, “Epy Guerrero: Super Scout,” in Jim Sandoval and Bill Nowlin, eds., Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession (Phoenix: SABR, 2011), 103.
6 The Sporting News, undated article in Peter Bavasi’s Hall of Fame file.
7 Dave Stieb with Kevin Boland, Tomorrow I’ll Be Perfect (Toronto: Doubleday, 1986), 27-32.
8 Gillick, interview.
9 Stephen Brunt, Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987), 291-292.
10 Frank Fitzpatrick, “Before Hall, Gillick Talks of Phils,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 2011: E4.
11 Tim Kurkjian, “The Blue Days,” Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1994: 54-59.
12 Salary data from baseball-reference.com.
13 Bob Nightengale, “With Gillick at the Top, the Orioles Will Be, Too,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1995: 54.
15 John Eisenberg, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles (New York: Contemporary Books, 2001), 455.
16 Gillick interview; Eisenberg, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, 465-466.
17 The Sporting News, November 10, 1997: 38; Eisenberg, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, 473-477.
18 Joe Strauss, “Murray, O’s Chat,” Baltimore Sun, October 26, 1999: D1, D4.
19 Jon Wells, Shipwrecked: A Peoples’ History of the Seattle Mariners (Kenmore, Washington: Epicenter, 2012), 141.
20 Zack Zolecki, “Complex Challenges Already Awaiting Phils’ General Manager,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3, 2005: E1, E10.
21 Pat Hagen, “In Gillick, Phils Made Hall of a Choice,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 22, 2011: 80, 82.
Lawrence Patrick David Gillick
August 22, 1937 at Chico, California (US)
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