October 25, 2008
On the Beat
PHILADELPHIA-Compared to his front-office counterpart in this year's World Series, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick is definitely old school. The Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations (Rays-talk for GM) Andrew Friedman is 31, and looks young enough that putting together an American League championship team could have passed for his senior-class project. If that were the case, Friedman would certainly deserve an "A," as the Rays are in the World Series and will face the Phillies in Game Three tonight at Citizens Bank Ballpark with the series tied up at a game apiece. Gillick, on the other hand, is 71 years old and has worked in baseball front offices for 45 years. The Phillies are the fourth organization for whom he has served as GM, following stints with the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Mariners.
The Blue Jays won their two World Series titles with Gillick in charge in 1992 and '93. He also oversaw division winners with the Orioles and Mariners. Now, Gillick has helped the Phillies get back to the World Series for the first time since '93, when Joe Carter's home run off of Mitch Williams in Game Six gave his Blue Jays their second straight title. This is Gillick's first time back to the World Series since Carter connected, and he notes that much has changed about the Fall Classic. "The World Series has always been a premier event, but it's really different now," Gillick said. "You have more media here than you did back in the 1990s. You have the internet, more talk radio, whereas you basically had the newspaper reporters who normally covered baseball at the World Series then. Of course, the world has changed a lot in 15 years. Now, everybody is walking around talking or sending text messages on a BlackBerry or an iPhone. A lot of things are different, but one thing that remains the same is that it is still satisfying and rewarding to have your team get to the World Series."
Gillick plans to step down from the GM job when his three-year contract expires on October 31. He will not attend the annual GM meetings that begin November 3 in Dana Point, California, leaving highly regarded assistant GMs Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle to represent the Phillies, but Gillick is quick to say that he is not retiring. He may be 71, but he looks and says he feels younger, and he still seems to have the same energy as he did during his first season as a GM in 1977 with the Blue Jays. "I'm just letting my contract expire," Gillick said. "When I took this job, I said it was going to be a three-year thing, and that is how it's going to end. [Phillies president] David Montgomery has asked me to stay on as GM or in some kind of role as an advisor or a consultant, but I think it's time to move on. I made a three-year commitment when I came here, and my three years are just about up."
That does not mean Gillick is miserable with the Phillies; he has enjoyed his three-year stint and being able to help the franchise return to the World Series, building on the work that Ed Wade did as GM before being fired after the 2005 season. "No GM job is ever easy, but in this case it was not like I had to come in and start over from the ground floor," Gillick said. "There was a nice nucleus of talent in place that needed to mature, and I've just tried to enhance that nucleus with certain moves."
Indeed, the heart of the Phillies' offense was drafted and developed before Gillick took over, including first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and left fielder Pat Burrell, as were catcher Carlos Ruiz, the top two starting pitchers in left-hander Cole Hamels and right-hander Brett Myers, and right-handed set-up reliever Ryan Madson. Center fielder Shane Victorino had already been selected from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft. Gillick has made moves to bolster the roster, acquiring closer Brad Lidge in a trade from the Astros last winter, and making three trades after the All-Star break this year, acquiring right-handed starter Joe Blanton from the Athletics, reserve outfielder Matt Stairs (a star in the NLCS victory over the Dodgers) from the Blue Jays, and left-handed reliever Scott Eyre from the Cubs. Gillick also got veteran lefty starter Jamie Moyer from the Mariners in a 2006 trade, and he also signed third baseman Pedro Feliz, right fielder Jayson Werth, and versatile reliever Chad Durbin as free agents.
While Gillick still has a lot to give and hasn't ruled out taking another GM job, he seems likely to return to the Mariners and work as a consultant under team president and close friend Chuck Armstrong. Gillick says he is keeping all of his options open. "People keep writing that I'm retiring, but that's not the case," Gillick said. "I really see myself in baseball in some capacity next season."
If Gillick takes a GM post with a fifth team, rest assured he will adhere to the same principles that have helped him become one of two active GMs to oversee two franchises that have reached the World Series (the other, Dave Dombrowski, was the GM with the 1997 Marlins and 2006 Tigers). "I've always been a scout at heart, and I believe scouting is the lifeblood of an organization and really drives all the decisions you make as a GM," Gillick said. "Having good scouts who can evaluate talent is just so important, both at the amateur and professional levels. I would not have been as fortunate to be the general manager of so many good teams if I didn't have a number of great scouts to rely on over the years. It makes a big difference between winning and losing."
The advent of performance analysis has certainly been one of many changes during Gillick's long career. Bill James was just starting to put his sabermetric theories into print when Gillick was beginning to build the Blue Jays from scratch. While Gillick isn't anti-statistics, he admits that he is not well-versed in such metrics as VORP, SNLVAR, and FRAA. "You've seen the younger GMs really embrace the statistics, and that's fine, because there is a place for that in the decision-making process," Gillick said. "We certainly use that type of analysis in our organization. Like anything else, though, I think you need to have a balance. I don't think you can construct a team solely by looking at statistics. While the numbers can certainly be instructive, you also need your scouts to put their eyes on players, to find out certainly qualities about guys that don't always necessarily show up on the stat sheet."
Gillick then used center fielder Aaron Rowand, who spent 2006 and 2007 with the Phillies, as an example. When the Giants offered Rowand five years and $55 million to sign as a free agent last winter, the Phillies did not match that offer, and instead turned the starting job over to Victorino. "I had a guy tell me that he could statistically prove that Rowand had the best range of any center fielder in baseball [in 2006], and that kind of raised my eyebrows," Gillick said. "Don't get me wrong, Aaron is a fine player and did a good job for us, but I don't think he has the most range of any center fielder in the major leagues. My eyes tell me that and so do the eyes of a lot of people who know baseball. I was reading about the sub-prime mortgage situation the other day, and the article said that all someone had to do was call a telephone number, give the square footage of his house and what ZIP code he lived in, and he would automatically be approved for a new mortgage," Gillick said. "But what if the property abuts a set of railroad tracks? What if it sits right against an industrial area? Certainly, that would impact the value of a property. That's why I think you need a set of human eyes in many situations. Numbers can tell you a lot, but they can't tell you everything. You can never take the human element out of the game."
Charlie Kerfeld, the former major league reliever and now a special assistant to Gillick, believes it is that personal touch that makes his boss so successful and enables him to keep going at his advanced age. "The thing that really stands out about Pat is that he truly doesn't worry about much of anything," Kerfeld said. "He just has an easygoing manner about him that makes people like him and want to work hard for him. He doesn't stress out about anything. Ninety percent of general managers are paranoid and worried about if their assistants are trying to undermine them, and most GMs are always worried about what other teams are doing. Pat doesn't worry about any of that stuff. He has a great track record and is secure enough to know that. That is why he is still so good at what he does after all these years."