- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2008

No individual award was given to Pat Gillick, the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, when his team beat Tampa Bay and won the World Series on Wednesday night.

But the championship locked down the place in history of Gillick, who has won the World Series with teams in both leagues, as the greatest baseball executive of his time.

And if things had gone differently in the fall of 2004, Gillick might have never had the chance to do so.


He wanted to be general manager of the Washington Nationals.

Let that one sink in for a while, Nationals fans.

When the official announcement of the Montreal Expos’ move to Washington came at the end of the 2004 season, general manager Omar Minaya left to take the job as the New York Mets’ GM. Major League Baseball, which still owned the Expos at the time, embarked on a search for a general manager to run the team in the District.

Gillick was working as a consultant for the Seattle Mariners at the time; he had resigned as GM at the end of the 2003 season. He had turned the Mariners into a perennial contender after he arrived in 2000, winning a major league-high 393 games over his time there (including 116 in 2001) and reaching the American League Championship Series twice.

He wanted to run a front office again, and when the Nationals job opened up, Gillick told The Washington Times he was interested in being considered for the job.

“I enjoy baseball and I enjoy being a general manager or scouting or whatever I am doing,” Gillick said. “I like the challenge and the competitiveness and the chance to build something. The last couple of places I have only been for a short period of time. I like to work.”

Gillick said he was interested in the Washington job, even as it existed then - run by MLB with no idea who would wind up owning the franchise.

“I love the game,” he said. “Any way I could help, I probably would. I’ve been around this game for a long time. If somebody asked me to do it and put things together and get things on an even keel for a while, I probably would. I’m still working for Seattle, but I am always interested in a challenge.”

Baseball, of course, in its continual effort to make sure the carcass of the Washington franchise was picked to the bone, never bothered to contact Gillick. Instead, it picked from a talent pool that was not quite as successful - one that included former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette and Jim Bowden, the former Reds general manager who wound up getting the job and has had it ever since.

Who knows if the state of the Nationals would have been any different under Gillick than it has been under Bowden? With the limitations of baseball’s ownership, the job would have been difficult for any baseball man - and remains so under the limitations of the Lerner ownership. But it would have been interesting to find out how the best general manager of his era might have fared under probably the worst possible conditions a GM could operate under.

For years, Gillick and Atlanta Braves president and former general manager John Schuerholz were talked about in the same breath as the best GMs in baseball. Schuerholz, of course, was mentioned for the consistent excellence of the Braves under his direction - 14 consecutive division titles and one World Series championship.

But Gillick has taken his act of excellence on the road to several locations. He helped build the Toronto Blue Jays from an expansion team to a contender, winning five American League East titles and the 1992 and 1993 World Series. He “retired” after the second World Series championship but came back to join Davey Johnson in Baltimore as the general manager of the Orioles in 1996. He quickly put together a roster that made it to the ALCS twice in the three years he was there. Gillick left after his contract expired in 1998 and, two years later, was hired in Seattle.

He was hired in Philadelphia in 2005 and engineered a series of trades and transactions that led to this 2008 World Series championship. It is worth noting that all three franchises Gillick ran - Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle - have never come close to the success they had under his direction.

Now Gillick, 71, is “retiring” again, stepping aside in Philadelphia, reportedly to make room for assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to take over.

We shall see how long this retirement lasts. Four years ago, he was willing to take the worst job in baseball because he loves the game.

Lucky for him, he was ignored.

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