Winning in sports changes like the tide, there are highs and lows, and then that time of day where it’s right in between. That’s what makes sports great — the lows make you appreciate the highs that much more. However, few executives will echo my sentiment. It’s rare to have success no matter where you go. But Pat Gillick brought high tide with him everywhere he went.
Gillick took over a bad Toronto team in 1978, after just one year on the job as assistant GM, building, scouting and winning just enough games to hang around 18 season and win two world championships. He went from Toronto to Baltimore and took on an Orioles club that finished below .500 in 1995. In Gillick’s first year, ’96, that same organization won 88 games and advanced to the championship series. The following year, even more improvement — a 98 win season. Next stop, Seattle, Washington where Gillick took the Mariners to two consecutive ALCS.
2006 is where most of begin to pick up his story. That’s when he came to Philadelphia, and we all know what happened here: Gillick led the rise from a franchise struggling, in a 13 year playoff drought to an unlikely division winner, to eventually a world champion.
Since that parade in 2008, Gillick has been keeping a low profile, advising Ruben Amaro, his successor in Philadelphia and team president David Montgomery. But now as the 2011 season approaches, his name is back in the news. Pat Gillick is on the Hall of Fame ballot and it couldn’t be more deservedly so.
I got a chance to catch up with Pat today in an exclusive conversation. He talks about his successful philosophy, Ruben’s handling of the team, his potential enshrinement in Cooperstown and his future in the game he loves the most.
SHAY RODDY: Pat, thanks so much for joining us.
PAT GILLICK: Well, it’s nice to be with you and we just got through the World Series a couple of weeks ago and so I think everybody’s kind of preparing for next season, so I think it’s going to be a fairly exciting off-season for everyone here in baseball.
SR: I’m interested in what your role will be this off-season. Since you left following the 2008 season you’ve been billed as the advisor to not only David Montgomery, but Ruben Amaro. What will your role be this offseason, as Ruben will obviously have some tough decisions to make and so will David. What will your role be and how will you be counseling the two of them?
PG: Well, I’m involved with the rest of our professional scouts and we have professional scouts who cover not only the minor leagues, but the major leagues also. So I work with them, and mainly my focus in 2010 had been on the minor league clubs and also the Arizona Fall League and in the spring I do a lot of amateur free agents for [scouting director] Marti Wolever. Most of my evaluation is done within the organization, so the knowledge I have is confined to the Phillies. So I usually advise Ruben and David Montgomery on the players who, in my judgement, are potential Phillies and ones that, I’m not going to use the word ‘untouchable’, but I would say that they have more value than some and figure for us more down the line. So we’re making a trade. We try to, as much as possible, make those decisions, that won’t effect the Phillies in the future. We have to give away some players, but we have to give away the right players and retain the players who I think, and the rest of the scouts feel, could be potential all-stars or stars for our ballclub.
SR: Obviously Ruben is running the show now, but you were obviously at it a long time yourself, wining three world championships as a general manager. Do you take a proactive approach when counseling Ruben. Will you call him and say “hey you need to check this guy out” or do you wait for him to call you? What’s your approach on talking to Ruben?
PG: I think it’s a little bit of both. If I come up with an idea that I think makes sense for the Phillies then certainly I’ll put that idea forward and at the same time Ruben will call me and run something by me and ask me if this makes sense. And a lot of what I do is makeup, the type of players we want in the organization. I’m used a lot to do a lot of research on what type of people these are before they become Phillies and at the same time try to pinpoint players that will fit into our lineup at the present time as well as looking at the big picture, where they’ll figure for the Phillies two or three years from now.
SR: Let’s look for a moment at this off-season that’s upon us now. The biggest point of debate, the biggest decision that needs to be made is Jayson Werth. Werth is a guy I’m sure you have a little bit of a different perspective on because he had sat out a season after suffering multiple wrist injuries out in LA. You took a gamble on him and brought him into Philadelphia and saw the type of player that he materialized into. Now he’s a free agent and he’s looking for money. You have to be proud of what he’s done here, but you also have to look at the budget and determine what’s realistic and what’s not. What do you see happening with him, I know the Phillies have offered him arbitration? Do you see them getting something done or his value just going to be too much for the team to handle?
PG: Well, I know that Ruben wants to do everything possible to get this deal done. He’s been a very big part of our ball club the last three seasons especially. As everyone knows, we’re heavily left handed. I wouldn’t use the word ‘imperative’ but it’s pretty important that we have a right-handed bat in there with some power, so I know Ruben’s going to do everything he can. But again sometimes, you just can’t get together on a number’s going to be. Right now, we’re very, very optimistic that we’re going to bring him back. But at the same time, it only takes one club of the other 29 clubs out there to step up and maybe do a little bit more than someone else. That’s what’s so, I’d say treacherous about the free agent market. Some of the representatives kind of fluff their client and make you believe that there are more offers than there is and at times other agents can tell you that there are some other offers out there and you can believe them. You just have to take a look at your ball club and know from a budget standpoint and what you want to spend and where this player will be at the end of the contract, which is the most important. We’ve always felt that length of contact is more important than the per-season value because what usually happens is that if you have a five year contact you might get three good years or four good years out of the player and then, by the end of it, you might have to get one of those years away. That’s what you want to stay away from – not giving a player too long of a contract where maybe a year or two at the end is very unproductive.
SR: I’m interested in your perspective on what Ruben has done here so far. Obviously he was an assistant under you and this is his first general manager gig. He inherited a team that had just won a World Series, the bar was already very high, and he’s made undoubtedly some great moves, I know he was criticized heavily about the Cliff Lee thing, but he rebounded from that by bringing in Roy Oswalt. I don’t want to put words in your mouth and call it a mistake, but if you want to call it that, which certainly many people did, he fixed it. What’s your impression on the job he’s done here since taking over for you?
PG: You can’t, no matter what it is in this business, and it is a business [hit every time.] If you hit seven out of ten or you hit 70% of the time I think you’re doing a very good job. I think Ruben took a big shot and hit big on Cliff Lee at the end of the ’09 season when he acquired him. He hit big when he acquired Roy Halladay from the Toronto Club. I think he hit big when he got Oswalt from Houston. So I think he’s done a lot of very positive things and as I said earlier in this conversation, tried retain players we felt were going to be Phillies down the line. We won 97 games, we won the most games in our league and I think that is a tribute to Ruben. He made a decision that he wanted to replenish the farm system and bring some players back from the Seattle club and even though those players have not, at this point, been active in Phillies uniforms, I think they’re going to be part of our club in the future–Aumont, Ramirez and Gillies—I think they all three will be. So I think the jury is kind of still out on that deal. So I think, as you said, if you call the Cliff Lee deal a mistake, he certainly rebounded with the Oswalt acquisition. So, to keep the nucleus in tact and then go ahead and put your club in a position to win in 2009 and then 2010, I think he’s done a terrific job.
SR: Has there been a piece of advice that you’ve given him. Because, when you came here, the core of the team that went on to win it in 2008 was already here. Most of those guys came up through the organization. And a lot of what you did was put the Jayson Werths in place, put the little pieces in place that you needed to have that complete team that could then go on to win. What’s your philosophy and what philosophy have you then passed on to Ruben about what it takes to work with the team you have and then finagle it to make it the best possible?
PG: I really gave very little advice. There’s really only two pieces of advice that I gave. One, I said be a good listener. And you can’t really be a good listener when you’re talking. What I meant by that was listen to your scouts, listen to the people who provide the information for you, because if you selected the right people to evaluate the players, they’re going to provide you with good solid information that you’re going to need to make decisions. So you need to listen to what your scouts say and take in all the information they give you and that way you can make a decision. And number two is to try to stay as flexible as possible. Something might happen later on and you’re locked in on a contract for four or five years and all of the sudden, you’re in a position where you can’t move or for budgetary purposes, you’ve spent your budget for that year. So as much as possible, keep yourself flexible because you don’t know when an opportunity might arise. Some club may fall out of the race very early and all of the sudden, a player you couldn’t have imagined will be available. I think, if a lot of people in Houston hadn’t been going the direction they were going, you would have never gotten Roy Oswalt. And who would have thought before he got Halladay, he could have gotten Halladay from Toronto because both of those players, and one of the more difficult things and the things he did an expert job on, was that they both had no trade clauses. Both of those players could have voided whatever deals Houston or Toronto made with the Phillies. So, he had to navigate around the no-trade contracts. That’s another thing that I think he’s done very, very well. So again, listen and be flexible. Those are the two things I told him when I left.
SR: You’ve general managed in so many different cities – Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and then here. So I’m interested in your take on the ownership in Philadelphia. It’s been said over the years, and I think these talks died down a little over the last couple of years where they have gone out and spent the money to put a winning team on the field, that the ownership has been known to tie GM’s hands here. What have you experienced here in comparison to other cities? How is the ownership here different? Do they have a hands on approach, do they kind of sit back and say, “this is what you can spend, don’t exceed this” and let you do your thing? What’s it like in Philadelphia?
PG: I think they are very, very good fans. The Betzs, the Middletons, the Bucks, Bill Giles – they all want to win. I think that they are, let me put it this way, very, very exuberant Phillies fans. But at the same time, they hire professional management to run their club. They have David Montgomery, who does a terrific job, they have Ruben there now, and they don’t interfere with that management. They establish a budget and ask the management if this is an adequate budget. If management feels it is, they’ll operate within it. If management feels it isn’t they’ll give the reasons that they think they need more money, but certainly I have not found, in the time I’ve been here and the time I was the general manager, 2006-2008, any reluctance on the part of our ownership to spend. I think they are more than reasonable and more than generous in allowing David and the general manager to make those monetary decisions that they have to make and to make those commitments to players.
SR: I want to point out too, that you are being considered for the Hall of Fame. It will be decided by a group of people who will meet at the general manager meetings, which are being held in Orlando this year, and the results will come out December 6. You need 12 of the 16 voters to put you on their ballot. It’s not December 6 yet, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re being considered with the likes of Billy Martin, Tommy John and George Steinbrenner, certainly. What does it mean to you to be put in with those names, to be considered for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown. Do you sense how great and amazing the accomplishments have been throughout your career? Put this into perspective for me, what does it mean to you to be considered for the Hall of Fame?
PG: First of all, when I heard that I was being considered, that I was on the ballot, I was quite surprised and really humbled by it. I think if I’m fortunate enough to get to the Hall of Fame it really validates a lot of the people that I’ve worked with over the years. I’m talking about the scouts, the player development, the ownership, players, the people that I’ve worked with over the years. I think this really gives them credit for a lot of what’s happened, because really, if I do get in, I didn’t do it alone. There were a lot of other people. As I said, ownership, media, players, owners, player development people, especially the scouts who have played a big part if I do get the opportunity to be going to the Hall. I think this is really something that represents all of the hard work by all of the people who have worked with me for the last 30 years.
SR: Is this where you see yourself ending your baseball life, in this position in Philadelphia. Do you ever see yourself taking on a general manager’s role, I would assume elsewhere, considering that Ruben looks like he’s going to be here for a little while?
PG: I hate to go to the Yankees, but as [Yogi] Berra used to say, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” I’m not sure. I think that right now, if I had a choice of where to end my career, I’d like to end it right here with the Phillies. But I think on the other hand, it just depends. My health is good and I still have a lot of passion and energy for the game. I think that as long as that exists, there might be a place or two that I would consider going. But I think right now I’m very happy here in Philadelphia and as I said, anything I can do to bring us back to a World Series. I think it was one of those situations this year where a lot of people might say it’s kind of sour grapes, but I thought we had the best club, but we weren’t the best club when we had to be. The Giants played extremely well, they played with a lot of intensity and they deserved to win the World Series. But player for player, I thought we had a better team and now I think it’s our job to tweak those things and get ready for 2011.