MAKING THE ‘JUNIOR’ LEAGUES : Darryl Gilliam Follows Father at Second Base Into Dodgers System
The way Darryl Gilliam envisions it, he should be pushing Steve Sax for his second base job in, oh, about four years.
But, for now, the 21-year-old Dodger minor leaguer seems quite content with the pace at which his baseball career is progressing.
Gilliam was in a good mood last Sunday during the Dodgers’ public workout at Dodger Stadium. He was wearing uniform No. 60, not the familiar No. 19 of another Dodger named Gilliam. Jim Gilliam, Darryl’s father, wore that number for 14 years as a player and another 12 as a Dodger coach before his death in 1978 at age 49. No. 19 has since been retired.
“His father was one of the finest ballplayers I ever played with,” said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda. “And now, to see a Gilliam still in baseball, it makes me feel good. I sure hope Darryl can make it, because I know that his dad is up in heaven and he would be very proud of him.”
For years, Junior Gilliam urged his son to attend spring training with him in Vero Beach. But when Darryl goes to Florida next month as a player in the Dodger organization, it’ll be his first look at the team’s spring training site.
“My father tried to get me to go when I was younger, but I always wanted to stay home, ride my bike and play around,” said Gilliam, who was only 2 when his father ended his playing career at the end of the 1966 season. “I really regret that today, because I would have learned a lot if I had gone down there.”
After Dodger scout Bob Darwin signed Gilliam to a free-agent contract out of Cal State Northridge in June, the team assigned him to Bradenton of the Gulf Coast League, a rookie affiliate that will move to Sarasota this summer. By the time Gilliam arrived, the season was under way. For a week and a half, he sat on the bench.
But his time wasn’t wasted. Hitting instructor Tom Byere worked with Gilliam every day, adjusting the “aluminum-bat swing” he brought from college. In addition, Manager Joe Alvarez drilled him twice a day at second base to correct problems with his footwork.
During morning workouts with the team, Alvarez worked with Gilliam. Then, after the scheduled afternoon game, there were the two of them, working on turning the double play. It was more Gilliam’s idea than Alvarez’s. Gilliam left CSUN partly because he was unhappy about not playing more at second base.
Said Alvarez: “We got a lot accomplished after hours. He will go through a wall for you if he gets the right feedback. Guys like that don’t come along too often with that type of outlook. I could take 25 guys like him and make a winning ballclub.”
Although Gilliam admits to fielding problems, he is confident about his hitting and base running. Using wooden bats for the first time since Little League, Gilliam batted .316 last summer. He struck out only 14 times in 120 at-bats.
“That’s a great accomplishment for a guy who came in two weeks after everybody else,” his manager said.
At 5-10, 165, Gilliam was used as the third or fourth hitter after breaking into the lineup. That amused him.
“I’m not a power hitter,” he said laughing. “But in the Gulf Coast League, they don’t look for power because not too many people hit home runs there. They just want someone who can hit line drives and hit the ball hard.”
Gilliam, who still lives in Northridge during the off-season, certainly didn’t get the star treatment at CSUN. He had to earn every inning of playing time.
Bob Hiegert, his college coach in 1983 and ’84, describes Gilliam’s arrival at CSUN in much the same way Alvarez described his arrival in Bradenton.
Said Hiegert: “Darryl was a very good offensive baseball player for us--a great contact hitter. He was an alert runner and he had great instincts on the bases. But when he came here, he had a long ways to go defensively.”
Batting leadoff, Gilliam hit .313 in 1983 and .343 in ’84. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons as a third baseman, outfielder and designated hitter. Still, he felt that his natural position was second base.
The CSUN second baseman during those two years was Perry Husband, the most valuable player in the 1984 Division II College World Series and now a minor leaguer in the Minnesota Twins’ system. Gilliam, who played second base in high school at Palisades High, managed to handle the disappointment of playing bridesmaid to Husband.
Said Hiegert: “He was a very successful high school athlete, but he had to battle to make the ballclub here. It was the first time he really had to fight for a job. He grew up a lot, and he became a much more involved player.”
Terry Craven, promoted last season from Hiegert’s assistant to coach when Hiegert decided to concentrate solely on his athletic director’s duties, saw Gilliam in yet another role: as a part-time outfielder-second baseman. Craven used freshman Jim Mitchell primarily as his second baseman.
Gilliam, one of four players from Craven’s 1985 team to sign a professional contract, appeared in only 40 of the Matadors’ 63 games last season. He hit .312 with one home run, seven runs batted in and 12 stolen bases, hitting usually near the bottom of the CSUN batting order. Defensively, he commited just four errors and fielded .967.
Mitchell, who is the Matadors’ second baseman this season, batted .241 with 23 RBIs in nine fewer at-bats and fielded .983 with 13 errors.
“I remember telling Darryl that I was putting him in the outfield because Bryant Long was injured,” said Craven recently. “He didn’t like it, but I told him I did it to help the team and that he was the best one I had to play out there.” Long was the team’s regular center fielder.
Gilliam was so frustrated with his part-time role that, when the Dodgers dangled the bait, he gleefully left CSUN a year short of graduation.
“I’m glad to be out of there, to tell you the truth,” Gilliam said before playing two innings at second base in last Sunday’s Dodger exhibition game against USC. “I don’t think I had a fair shake.
“I’m not bitter with anyone,” he said. “I enjoyed the program. They had good people there. I would have liked to finish out my college career in four years but, as the situation went, I thought it was time to leave.”
Craven was disappointed by Gilliam’s remarks.
“I’m not in the kid’s brain,” Craven said. “He was talking to more people on the outside about his feelings than on the inside. Everyone got a fair chance.”
The way Alvarez handled him in Bradenton seems to bear out Craven’s decision.
“He wasn’t ready to play second base when he got here,” Alvarez said. “He knew that and understood that and never complained. He’s got the speed to play center field, but his arm would hold him back. I hate to put a label on a kid, but if we’re going to benefit him and the organization, I see him as an infielder all the way.”
And where else would a Dodger named Gilliam play?
Yet, Darryl understands that his last name is not a ticket to the major leagues.
“They don’t give you the chance to play for them because of your name,” he said of the Dodgers. “They know I can play.
“I’m working hard and making my breaks, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be wearing No. 19, eventually.”