When I see the greatness of the Philadelphia Phillies, who look every bit like a team on the brink of repeating as World Series champions, I see the greatness of Pat Gillick.
Ruben Amaro, Jr., may the Philllies general manager now, but the credit for this team and the success of the Phillies franchise goes right to Gillick, who ran the baseball operation from 2006 to 2008.
Gillick is, without question, the greatest general manager of his time, and he may be the greatest sports executive of his time, in any major sport.
Gillick has run four major league teams during his front office career — the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles, the Seattle Mariners and the Phillies. All four under Gillick’s watch made the playoffs. Two of them, the Blue Jays and the Phillies, won World Series titles.
I don’t know of many, if any, sports executives who have led four different organizations to postseason play, and then winning world championships in two different leagues.
A former Orioles pitching prospect, Gillick built the expansion Blue Jays from scratch, starting as the vice president of baseball operations when the team began play in 1977. He would go on to put together a dynasty, winning five American League East division titles and two World Series championships, in 1992 and 1993.
He supposedly retired after the second world championship, but came to Baltimore in 1996 and quickly made the right free agent moves to lead the Orioles, a team that had not been in the postseason since 1983, to the playoffs for two straight seasons, first as a wild card team in 1996 and then the wire-to-wire AL East title in 1997.
Gillick finished out his contract in Baltimore after the 1998 season — after things fell apart because of the meddling of owner Peter Angelos — but came back in 2000 to Seattle, where he put together Mariners teams that made two playoff appearances — an AL West flag and a wild card — while at the same time being forced to trade Ken Griffey, Jr., and letting Alex Rodriguez leave as a free agent. The 2001 Mariners squad won a record 116 games.
Once again, Gillick stepped down after the 2003, but came back to run the Phillies in 2006, and made the moves that changed the Phillies from a bloated, underachieving franchise to the winner you see now. He got rid of Jim Thome to make room for Ryan Howard, and then, in the middle of 2006, made the deal that truly changed the makeup of this team — traded Bobby Abreu and his burdensome contract to the New York Yankees for a handle of minor league prospects.
Gillick was roundly criticized for the deal, but it made room for Shane Victorino, whose energy and speed changed the makeup of the Phillies and was the primary reason Gillick made the move — to change the culture of the team and energize it. And when you watch Victorino and his impact on the team, you can see how important that decision was.
It was Gillick who had drafted Jayson Werth when he was in Baltimore, and then, when after being traded to the Dodgers and then not resigned after the 2006 season because of a series of wrist injuries, Gillick signed him in Philadelphia. Werth has now become an elite player — 36 home runs, 99 RBI and 20 stolen bases this year.
Even Matt Stairs, watching him work the count into a key walk that led to Jimmy Rolllins game-winning hit against the Dodgers in the ninth inning of game four of the National League Championship Series Monday night, I thought of Gillick, who had picked Stairs, a professional hitter who will win a game for you in key moments, up near the end of the 2008 season.
Gillick is a special advisor now to the Phillies, and still spends much of his time going around the country, scouting players. But if the Phillies win a second straight World Series championship, it will be on his resume as well — a resume of greatness.
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