Former Mariners GM Pat Gillick inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame

Seattle MarinersToronto Blue JaysPhiladelphia PhilliesWorld SeriesNational Baseball Hall of Fame and MuseumBaltimore OriolesFred McGriff

Sunday afternoon, in Cooperstown, New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome its three newest members. There's a skilled offensive and defensive second baseman who finished his career with nearly 3,000 hits. There's a top-of-the-line starting pitcher who finished his career with more strikeouts than all but four pitchers in baseball history. And there's a GM.

If that last one sounds weird, that's because it is. Ex-general manager Pat Gillick will become the 32nd executive elected to the Hall, but just the fourth to be elected primarily for his work as - as the press release puts it - "a team architect." In that regard, he'll join Branch Rickey, George Weiss and Ed Barrow.

But while the Hall of Fame is known more for the former great players than for the former great executives, there's no denying that any group of elected executives has to include Gillick, who for three decades was a consistently successful GM.

The big problem with evaluating general managers is that they don't have the numbers. Players generate oodles of numbers. Individual statistics that can be compared to those of peers, or to those of players from other eras. There are adjustments that have to be made, taking into consideration one's playing environment or league context or what have you, but these adjustments are well understood. With rare exception, it's easy to say which players were great, and which were not.

It's not nearly that easy with GMs. GMs generate numbers, too. Their teams generate wins and losses. They can win divisions. They can win World Series. But there's so much more noise in the data. An individual player's statistics will directly reflect the ability of the player. An individual team's statistics will not necessarily reflect the ability of the general manager, because sometimes there are surprise successes, or surprise disappointments. Sometimes things happen that would've been impossible for the GM to predict, for which the GM should not be praised or penalized.

With GMs, then, what's needed is a huge sample size. Only after several, several years -- decades, really -- can we really begin to make anything of the performances of the teams that they've built. With a sufficiently large sample, the noise should be reduced, as positive and negative flukes even out. Pat Gillick lasted long enough to generate a huge sample size. And when you look at his track record, you see that his teams were impressively successful.

Pat Gillick served as a general manager for 27 seasons, running the Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Mariners, and the Phillies. Nine of his teams finished first in their division. Eleven of his teams made the playoffs. Three of his teams won the World Series. One of his teams won 116 games. And of his last 22 teams, 20 finished with a winning record.

My own experience with Gillick was as a Mariners fan. Gillick served as the Mariners' GM from before the 2000 season through the end of the 2003 season. His first major task was trading Ken Griffey Jr.; with zero leverage, Gillick worked out an excellent deal. The team subsequently won 393 games over the following four seasons, with the 2001 edition being arguably the greatest team in baseball history. With the Mariners, Gillick was tremendous. And he was similarly tremendous at each of his other three stops.

If you'd like, you could point to Gillick's early GM'ing days in Toronto as being a stain on his record. But for one thing: the team was brand new. For another, so was Gillick. Once the Jays and Gillick got their feet under them, the team became a consistent success.

Nicknamed "Stand Pat" more out of convenience than anything else, Gillick was not opposed to swinging deals, but deals weren't necessarily how he made his name. There were big trades, like Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. There was getting Fred McGriff in the first place, for Dale Murray. But Gillick also snapped up George Bell in the Rule 5 draft. He grabbed Tom Henke. He signed Paul Molitor, Jack Morris, Ichiro Suzuki, and countless others. He made a big deal of meeting players for himself and weighing their makeup as much as their talent, and he also made a big deal about international scouting.

The old joke is that teams would be ruined after Gillick left. The Blue Jays haven't returned to the playoffs since Gillick. The Orioles haven't reached .500 since Gillick. The Mariners haven't returned to the playoffs since Gillick. The Phillies bucked the pattern by remaining awesome, but then Gillick has remained on staff the whole time as an advisor. So, who knows? In a way, Gillick was kind of like a leg - he didn't attract a ton of attention while he was around, but the instant he went away, his ex-teams were screwed.

In 1993, Gillick was named Sportsman of the Year by The Sporting News. In 1997, he was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was added to the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence. And in 2011, on this very weekend, he will receive his highest honor yet. Pat Gillick has long been a Hall of Fame general manager. This weekend, Cooperstown finally makes it official.

Courtesy of www.mlb.sbnation.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading