The selection of Pat Gillick—and no one else—from the ballot considered by the Hall of Fame’s veterans committee in December was a decision made about baseball, and nothing else.
It wasn’t about business or bullies or buying success.
Marvin Miller, the labor leader who turned the Major League Baseball Players Association into the strongest union in professional sports, came up one vote shy of the 12 needed from the 16-member committee for induction.
George Steinbrenner, whose brashness and cash underscored his reign of ownership in which the Yankees returned to the top of the baseball heap in terms of success and finances, wasn’t even listed on half of the ballots cast.
While the merits of their candidacies can be debated, this balloting turned out to be about a man who has built teams with success. Gillick became the 32nd team executive to be voted into the Hall of Fame, the fourth described as a “team architect.”
“Ed Barrow, George Weiss and Branch Rickey now have a fourth for bridge,” Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said.
Barrow was the man credited with discovering Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner in 1896, but more importantly he was described as the architect of the original Yankees dynasty, overseeing a team that won 14 pennants and 10 World Series under his guidance from 1921-45.
Weiss was Barrow’s protégé, brought to the Yankees as the farm director in the late 1920s, and he rose to become Barrow’s replacement as the man in charge. He oversaw the franchise from 1947-60, when it won 10 more AL pennants and seven more World Series.
Rickey was the original architect of the baseball farm system, the man who opened the door to African-Americans when he brought Jackie Robinson to the big leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the man who made statistics a part of the evaluation of players, creating, among other things, on-base percentage.
And then there is Gillick, a one-time minor league pitcher with a photographic memory, who spent 27 years as a major league general manager with four franchises. He was one of the original employees of the Toronto Blue Jays, taking them from an expansion team in 1977 to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992-93.
After leaving the Jays, he helped Baltimore to two postseason appearances in four years on the job. He oversaw four 90-win seasons in four years in Seattle, including an AL record 116-win season in 2001 and the first two playoff appearances in franchise history. And his time in Philadelphia was capped off by the 2008 World Series championship, the second in the history of the franchise.
“Anywhere I went I was always very fortunate to have people who were good evaluators,” Gillick said. “The job of the general manager isn’t to select players. It’s to select the people who select the players. The challenge is selecting good evaluators. They are the ones who do the jobs. They are the ones who make a franchise successful.”
An Evaluator Too
The reason Gillick always had good talent evaluators around him is because Gillick is as good an evaluator as there has ever been. He was always looking for an edge in his effort to build a winner, and usually found it.
“Nothing escapes Pat,” said Dave Yocum, who worked for Gillick in Toronto and is now a special assistant with the White Sox.
Yocum remembers scouting a high school game in Ohio, back in the days before cell phones. A maintenance worker approached the group of scouts sitting behind home plate, and after finding out who Yocum was, told him he had a phone call.
“We walked to the equipment shed, where they keep the lawnmowers and everything,” Yocum said. “There was a phone there, and Pat had the number. He probably still has it. He never forgets a phone number.”
Most of all he is known for his belief in the importance of people in evaluations.
“When I started out in this game, I thought it was 70 percent ability and 30 percent character, and the longer I’ve been in it, I think its 60 percent character and 40 percent ability,” Gillick said. “Because if you’re going to be out there through spring training (and) 162 games, you need people with character.
“And we were very, very fortunate on . . . most of the clubs that we’ve had, that we’ve had good character people on the club and people that pulled together at difficult times.”