Foiled by Angels, Gillick Turned to Angelos

Pat Gillick listened to the appeals of Manager Davey Johnson, a former minor league teammate, overcame his concerns about owner Peter Angelos and agreed to come out of retirement as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

Gillick, architect of the Toronto Blue Jay championship teams, has since remodeled the Orioles by signing free agents Roberto Alomar, Randy Myers and B.J. Surhoff and trading for pitchers David Wells and Kent Mercker.

The untold story, however, is that Gillick, a USC graduate at 20 and now 58, initially tried to come out of retirement last fall as leader of a group trying to purchase the Angels.

Gillick, who would have become president or general manager, wouldn't identify his financial partners, but it has been learned that a key figure was Ohio businessman Bill DeWitt Jr., who subsequently became a principal owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"We talked to Jackie [Autry] and didn't have a problem with the price," Gillick said of an estimated $30 million for 25% and controlling interest.

"At the time, however, she and Gene [Autry] seemed to be too far down the road with [a group headed by] Peter Ueberroth to change directions. I don't know what happened to that situation, whether Ueberroth ultimately didn't have the money or not, but it was my impression the Autrys wanted to sell to a baseball-oriented person rather than going with Disney's marketing glitz."

Gillick said he was disappointed his inquiry didn't lead anywhere because the area should sustain a profitable franchise.

"I really like the Autrys and I'm not saying they haven't been good owners, but every time they seemed to be doing the right things, they would change directions," Gillick said. "They never stayed on a course."

Gillick, who retired as Toronto general manager after the 1994 season, had similar feelings about Angelos when Oriole officials began romancing him unsuccessfully last fall.

"I never thought he had a game plan," Gillick said of Angelos. "I didn't think he knew what he was doing."

Gillick was also relatively happy in retirement, doing some scouting for the Blue Jays and disenchanted by the way Angelos left Manager Phil Regan and General Manager Roland Hemond hanging while talking to and about possible replacements.

When Angelos ultimately hired a manager before hiring a general manager, "I felt they had definitely put the cart before the horse," Gillick said.

However, Johnson and Gillick, Oriole farmhands at Elmira, N.Y., in 1963, had long admired each other, and when Johnson began urging Gillick to reconsider and to at least sit down and meet Angelos, Gillick ultimately agreed.

What he found, Gillick said, was a man committed to his city, to winning and to building an organization the right way.

And committed to letting Gillick and staff run the organization without the reactionary habits of New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, tendencies Angelos had been demonstrating.

A three-year, $2.4-million contract may have compensated for any lingering doubts Gillick had in that area. Angelos also let his new general manager engage the Yankees in an American League East signing war.

"The Orioles had a nucleus of five or six outstanding players who were at a point in their careers where, if you were going to capture what they had left, you had to add to that nucleus and you had to do it quickly over the next couple of years," he said.

"People talk about the money we spent [the Oriole payroll is about $48 million], but we also dumped about $12 or $13 million by not re-signing Kevin Brown, Ben McDonald, Leo Gomez, Bret Barberie and Doug Jones. We also dropped out of the bidding for several guys we were interested in [including David Cone, who signed with the Yankees]."

Ultimately, said Johnson, the Orioles don't want to be held hostage by free agency, but until the farm system is more productive, "we had to be active in that market to compete with Boston and New York."

Johnson is new to the AL after several championship seasons as manager of the New York Mets and a bizarre year leading the Cincinnati Reds to a division title while knowing he was going to be fired because owner Marge Schott disapproved of his live-in relationship with a woman who has since become his wife. He said it was difficult for him to make a prediction, "but we should definitely be a contender."

"I'm always optimistic and I always expect the seat I'm on to be a hot one," he said.

Johnson finished first in two of his three years managing the Reds and never finished lower than second in his six full seasons managing the Mets.

He was the Orioles' second baseman for six years starting in 1966, often borrowing the computer at then-owner Jerry Hoffberger's brewery to create a statistical program he called "Optimizing the Orioles' Lineup."

"I would give the data to Earl [Weaver] and he would deposit it in the garbage can," Johnson said of the former manager.

Johnson is Angelos' third manager in 18 months and got a three-year, $2.25-million contract only a year after he was rejected by Angelos in an interview process that led to Regan getting the 1995 job.

Asked if he wasn't swallowing pride to have now accepted the Orioles' offer, Johnson said: "I do have a lot of pride, but I don't have a big ego. Maybe I was hoping they'd offer the job so I could say no, but I discarded that idea in about two seconds because Baltimore represents my baseball roots. I thought it was a good fit a year ago, and I still do."

How his new group of players fit remains to be seen. Gillick said character was as important as talent in all of the acquisitions, but thinking ahead, he added:

"We haven't won or lost a game yet. All we've done is spend money."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°