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Bob Ford: Gillick deserves enshrinement in Hall of Fame

A veterans committee for baseball's Hall of Fame will meet next week at the game's annual winter meetings to judge the merits of 12 candidates recently selected for approval by yet another committee.

Pat Gillick is up for consideration for the Hall of Fame. (David Maialette / Staff File Photo)
Pat Gillick is up for consideration for the Hall of Fame. (David Maialette / Staff File Photo)Read more

A veterans committee for baseball's Hall of Fame will meet next week at the game's annual winter meetings to judge the merits of 12 candidates recently selected for approval by yet another committee.

It is a somewhat convoluted process intended to give due consideration to those who might have slipped through the cracks of the Hall of Fame, which has notorious gaps in the floorboards.

The Historical Oversight Committee, focused this time on the last 40 years of baseball, came up with a list that covers the gamut from great players (Vida Blue) to game-changing forces (Marvin Miller) to towering figures for both good and evil (George Steinbrenner and George Steinbrenner). Any candidate named on 12 of 16 ballots from a star-laden voting committee will become a member of the Hall of Fame, with the results announced Dec. 6.

Among the candidates is Pat Gillick, considered by many the greatest general manager of the modern era, an assertion that would bring little debate in Philadelphia these days. After successful terms in Toronto, Baltimore, and Seattle, Gillick came to Philadelphia in 2006, sat in the chair for three years, and the Phillies went out and won a World Series. Since he stepped back into an adviser's role to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phils have kept on winning, and are threatening to do so for a few years longer.

Gillick is 73 now, living mostly in Seattle. His first job as a general manager was in 1977 with the Blue Jays, and if the voting committee wants to hear why Gillick should really be in the Hall of Fame, it should just consider his initial job interview with the owners of the expansion team.

"I told them it would probably take 10 years for us to be where we want to be, and that turned out to be just about on target," Gillick said the other day.

The key, of course, is that when Gillick says things - which he does only after a period of contemplative listening - they always sound so reasonable, so comforting. Whether lulling another general manager into parting with a player or telling an eager group of owners to wait a decade, Gillick is as soothing as a bedtime story. So, yes, he still got the job.

"I don't know if that type of patience still exists today," Gillick said, "but it was there."

Gillick, a former lefthanded pitcher whose career went to the high minors before it cast him on the shores of the scouting and player development world, was true to his word in Toronto - a little early, even. The Blue Jays made the postseason in 1985 and would enjoy 11 straight winning seasons, including two world championships, before the tide finally ebbed.

After 18 years with Toronto, Gillick moved on to Baltimore, then Seattle, and finally the Phillies. In those 10 combined seasons, his teams made the postseason six times.

Gillick's methods aren't flamboyant. They are almost introspective, and there was some frustration here as he set the trap on the Phillies' roster. He was called "Stand Pat" for his deliberate pace, and criticized for bringing Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins to the table for short, expensive meals.

One of Gillick's favorite concepts is that a team that wants to win something has to have at least three bad contracts on its roster, three fairly recognizable mistakes. His theory is that you have to be willing to take chances and succeed on enough of them to overcome the errors. If you don't take the chances, you can't win.

"If you're going to hit big, you have to accept the misses," Gillick said. "As long as you bat .700 or so. Eaton and Jenkins didn't pan out, but [Jayson] Werth did. Getting [J.C.] Romero for next to nothing did. Getting [Shane] Victorino in the Rule 5 draft did."

When Gillick stepped down after the 2008 championship, he didn't really step away. He and Amaro converse two or three times a week, and he is a regular on a weekly conference call with the GM and the team's top scouting and farm system executives. Before the draft, he scouts amateur players throughout the West, and he just returned from 10 days at the Arizona Fall League looking at the Phillies' prospects and those from other teams. When spring training comes, Gillick will be another set of eyes and ears trolling the camps.

"I didn't give Ruben much advice when I left, but I told him to be a good listener. You can't hear anything if you're talking," Gillick said. "Be prepared. Be flexible. Put good people around you and listen to them. Be ready to change all the time."

The Blue Jays, Orioles, and Mariners have not made the postseason since Gillick left those organizations, a combined 35 seasons of waiting for the next success. Whether that is a tribute to what he accomplished while there or a criticism of how he left them is a matter of perspective. There aren't any complaints in Philadelphia, where the engine has kept chugging.

Perhaps that is because Gillick is still on the other end of the phone, or sitting alone in the stands somewhere evaluating a kid. His brand of team-building, which Amaro has embraced, reaches back into the past, beyond the Moneyball geniuses and the stat wonks who occupy the general manager chairs in some organizations.

"A lot of new owners and GMs are looking for different ways to skin the cat," Gillick said. "I'm not against new approaches, and there is very valuable information in the statistical end of things. But I have always put a lot on the personal side of things."

That is the side that can look at a player and see what he can become, not just what he is. It is the side that knows how to listen when everyone else is talking, and to hear what is said and what is not said. Pat Gillick has done all of that for a long time.

He says it would be a great honor and humbling if he were elected to the Hall of Fame, but either outcome wouldn't change anything.

"To me, it would be an appreciation of all those people who have worked with me over the years," Gillick said. "They would be the real reason I got in."

Sure they would.