LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference. Maybe if club president Dave Montgomery hadn't made the personally wrenching decision to replace general manager Ed Wade after another agonizingly close miss at the end of the 2005 season, the Phillies would still be coming off four straight postseason visits that encompassed just the second world championship in franchise history.
Probably not, though.
Maybe if the Phillies had hired somebody other than Pat Gillick to get them past what Montgomery politely referred to as their "postseason challenge," the pieces would have fallen into place anyway.
Probably not, though.
That's not a knock on Wade, who Gillick has consistently credited with putting the building blocks for later success into place. It's not a knock on other candidates; Gerry Hunsicker was prominently mentioned as a possibility at the time and there's no reason to suspect he wouldn't have done a bang-up job.
Instead it's a reflection that, through the prism of hindsight, it's now clear that Gillick was the right man at the right moment in Phillies history to help nudge the organization to the next level after having also guided the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners to more success than they had before or since.
That Midas touch was recognized yesterday with the announcement that the Expansion Era Committee had voted the 73-year-old baseball lifer into the Hall of Fame. He'll be inducted in Cooperstown on July 24.
Maybe he would have earned enshrinement based on his success at his first three stops and didn't need to assemble the team that broke through by making the playoffs in 2007 and won it all the following season, his last before stepping back into his current role as a senior adviser for the Phillies.
Probably not, though. At least, Gillick doesn't think so.
"I don't think this would have happened unless I come back to Philly and we win [two division titles and a world championship]," he said shortly after the press conference at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.
(Funny how baseball works. In his earlier incarnation as general manager of Blue Jays, he took future All-Star outfielder George Bell in the Rule 5 draft even though the Phillies thought they had him well hidden in winter ball. And he celebrated in the executive box at SkyDome after Joe Carter's home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series sunk the Phils.)
His legacy to his final team is more than one big, shiny trophy. There are no calipers that measure such things, but anybody who had followed the Phillies closely for a while noted a subtle change in the organizational mind-set after he arrived.
He most often showed up for games in cowboy boots and a colorful Hawaiian shirt, a stark contrast to the button-downed front-office image.
Most importantly, suddenly it was all right to make mistakes. If you traded for Freddy Garcia or signed Adam Eaton to a 3-year, $24.5 million free-agent contract - both moves that backfired spectacularly - so what? Gillick was secure enough that he was willing to admit that he goofed and never look back.
Since that approach has helped support the most successful era in team history, that philosophy has become embedded in the day-to-day operation.
Montgomery conceded as much when asked if Gillick had changed him. "Did I get an education about baseball from Pat Gillick? Absolutely. I don't think anybody could spend time with Pat Gillick and not get an education about baseball," he said.
Of all his moves, big and small, the one that might best illustrate Gillick's perception-be-damned approach came in the middle of his first year when he traded All-Star Bobby Abreu to the Yankees at the deadline for a quartet of non-prospects. And then he calmly announced that the Phils probably wouldn't be able to compete in 2007, that it probably would be '08 before they would have a realistic chance of making the playoffs.
The fan base was, ahem, less than thrilled with this pronouncement . . . though quickly forgave him when the Phils stormed past the collapsing Mets to win the division the following year.
People skills also set Gillick apart. He was a talented evaluator in his own right, surrounded himself with good people and listened to their opinions. He never liked to add a player without sitting down with him for breakfast or lunch, looking him in the eye. In an era that more and more relied on the clinical sabermetric approach, he preferred doing things the old-fashioned way.
He inspired a fierce loyalty in those who worked with him. Here's just one example why:
Bob Engle is the Seattle Mariners' Latin American scout. This week a package arrived at his home in Tampa. Inside was a baseball with two autographs. One was Roy Halladay's. As Toronto's cross-checker in 1995, Engle played a part in Toronto's decision to draft the big righthander in 1995.
The other was Don Larsen, who was the only pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in the postseason before Halladay did it last October.
There probably aren't many baseballs with those two autographs. But Gillick, who knew Larsen from the minor leagues, made sure his former scout had one.
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