IN 18 REMARKABLE hours at the winter meetings in Orlando, an intertwined player and baseball executive made headline news.
Free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth emerged from the mushroom-shaped cloud produced by agent Scott Boras with a 7-year, $126 million contract. The deal was apparently struck by Boras without use of extortion, hypnotism or excessive force on Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
The first order of business yesterday morning when the 4-day swap meet and agent throw-down officially began was to announce the result of the semiannual election of the Hall of Fame Expansion Era Committee.
Pat Gillick, the Baltimore Orioles GM when he made Jayson Werth his club's No. 1 draft pick in June 1997, was the only candidate in a field of retired players and front-office men representing the so-called Expansion Era to be elected. Pat received 80 percent of the vote by a 16-member blue-ribbon panel of Hall of Fame players, executives and media members.
Gillick had scouted Werth as a 6-5 high school catcher in Illinois. He paid his first-rounder a handsome bonus and sent him off to polish his trade.
Werth bombed in the low minors and the Orioles traded him to Pat's old Toronto franchise after the 2000 season. The Blue Jays then traded Werth to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he had modest success. Jayson was an outfielder by then and was establishing his power when he suffered a broken wrist. He missed all of the 2006 season and the Dodgers did not offer him a 2007 contract.
Gillick was Phillies GM by then, having moved on from his successful turn in Baltimore to the Seattle Mariners. That remote franchise rode a remarkable wave of homegrown talent that peaked with a record-tying 116 victory season in 2001.
Pat was an established legend when he restored the moribund Orioles franchise. He had assumed leadership of the expansion Blue Jays, building them to a powerhouse that won consecutive World Series titles in 1992 and '93, when Joe Carter touched 'em all.
Toronto, towering success . . . Baltimore, postseason success . . . Seattle, ditto . . . Philadelphia, replaced GM Ed Wade. The rest is history.
One of Pat's first personnel moves as Phils GM was to remind baseball men who respected and admired the dapper Californian that he was a scout, first and foremost. A great scout with the intuitive gift of recognizing exceptional talent that might not emerge for years. Werth, an apparent Gillick first-round gaffe, was on the free-agent market. Most GMs bury their mistakes. They remind themselves of all the negatives that prevented the player they had been wrong about from reaching his projected ceiling.
Gillick did the opposite. He remembered the grace Werth had in his movements behind the plate. His quarter-miler stride running the bases. The velocity and accuracy of his throws. Scouts like to say that speed never slumps. Baseball's three great unteachables are speed, power and arm. If Werth's nagging wrist injury had completely healed, Pat felt, the rest of the package should still be there. Assured the outfielder was healthy, Gillick reached for the shovel and disinterred what had appeared to be his first-round draft mistake. Werth signed for an easy-to-swallow $850,000 contract.
If you are still hyperventilating over Werth getting one of the richest free-agent contracts in the history of the process, take a few extra breaths and remember the 4-year production the Phillies got from Jayson for a relative pittance.
Baseball's great general managers were and are first and foremost great scouts. It is how Gillick - and his longtime Phillies GM colleague, Paul Owens - made their bones after their playing days were over.
After the Phils' World Series triumph in 2008, Gillick slid seamlessly into a retirement role as senior adviser to the successor he had helped mentor, Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat's fingerprints are on virtually every major move the team has made since then. He had insiders knowledge of Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, the three little-known Mariners prospects exchanged for Cliff Lee as Phillies Nation either cursed or wept. Pat would look detractors in the eye and say, "Patience."
In 2009, I arrived in Clearwater on a chilly, late-February day. I went to the Phillies' offices in Bright House Field to pick up credentials. The crack of a bat lured me to the stands. Four minor league third basemen were lined up behind third, taking ground balls. One was Anthony Hewitt, the final first-round draft pick on Gillick's watch, a high-ceiling athlete from Brooklyn with scant baseball experience. The third basemen would field the grounders fungoed by a coach and fire them to another coach covering first base, who would flip the ball to the side. A trim, distinguished-looking gentleman in a windbreaker would retrieve the balls and drop them into a large bucket. When the bucket was full he would carry it into the coach with the bat.
It was Pat Gillick, back to his early roots, still thriving in the hands-on element he loved. He no doubt reported to the minor league people that Hewitt's footwork was still atrocious and his arm was powerful but erratic. Hewitt enters his fourth pro season all ceiling and no results. Again, Pat Gillick would urge, "Patience.''
I think that brief vignette on a chilly day in an empty stadium represented the lengthened shadow of the baseball man's Hall of Fame career.
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