My last column was all about Marvin Miller, who was not elected to the Hall of Fame, with nary a word nor a mention about Pat Gillick, who was. That was by design because Gillick deserves more than a mention. And if he didn’t deserve it because of a great career as a general manager (a career as a great general manager?), he earned it with his comments after learning that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Responding to reporters’ questions about his practices as a general manager, Gillick rejected the statistical analysis approach to player evaluation that has become the popular thing to do among younger general managers.
“I think you have to watch the game,” the 73-year-old Gillick said. “The statistics tell you one thing and they don’t want anything happening emotionally on the field or anything on the field to really tinker with those statistics sometimes. So I think you have to use both. I think you have to see the player and you have to see him on the field – how he plays the game. Is he intense? Does he have passion? Get his body language. See how he interacts with the other players on the team.”
Gillick’s words were music to my ears. Here’s a guy, remember, who built three World Series championship teams and assorted other division champions and contenders in four different organizations, and he’s reminding us that people play the game and they have to be viewed not by sets of statistics and charts and graphs alone but by what they demonstrate on the field with their arms, legs and bats and with the intangibles they display in the way they play the game.
It takes scouts to identify those intangibles. No computer program can spot them.
Gillick came out of scouting and player development after beginning his baseball career as a minor league pitcher, and he never forgot his roots. The Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles, the Seattle Mariners and the Philadelphia Phillies benefited from Gillick’s expertise and judgment, and a statistically-oriented baseball executive would be hard pressed to match his career.
As talented and successful as Gillick was, my favorite aspect of his career was the number of times he retired. Each time he left a general manager’s job he announced that he was retiring. Then a few months later another team announced that it was hiring Gillick as its general manager. So much (each time) for retirement.
Gillick left his first g.m. job after his team, the Blue Jays, won two consecutive World Series in 1992 and ‘93. That was the first time he announced that he was retiring, but it was really the most gracious way he could leave the Blue Jays. Despite the World Series titles, Gillick saw what was coming, and it wasn’t pretty.
Baltimore was his next stop, and the fact that Gillick stayed only three years (1996-98) was one of the biggest mistakes Peter Angelos made as the Orioles’ owner. Another was making Gillick so miserable with his meddling that he left after three years. The Orioles haven’t had a winning season since.
Gillick’s four-year stop in Seattle followed and included a league-record 116-victory season in 2001. However, a return to the World Series eluded him in Seattle, and he retired once again. This time it looked like the retirement might stick as Gillick went two years without taking a g.m. job.
But along came the Phillies, who enticed him back into the front office, where he remained for three years (2006-08). He capped his career with the World Series championship, and this time when he said he was retiring he meant it.
The most interesting thing about Gillick’s traveling career is that none of the teams he served as general manager was as good after he left as when he was the g.m. Even the Phillies. They returned to the World Series the year after winning it and after Gillick departed, but they lost.
The Mariners are scuffling, the Orioles have been awful and the Blue Jays are mired in the American League East quagmire behind the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Rays.
Another interesting aspect of Gillick’s election to the Hall of Fame is that he is only the fourth general manager to be elected and the first in many decades. The others are Ed Barrow, Branch Rickey and George Weiss.
Rickey was far ahead of his time in his use of statistics, but he could not have been categorized as a statistical analyst general manager. Weiss’ statistics of preference were meager salaries.
One day in the near future John Schuerholz, the architect of an unprecedented 14 consecutive first-place finishes in Atlanta, will become No. 5 on the Hall of Fame’s general managers list. Schuerholz, like Gillick, has shown disdain for using statistical analysis as the predominant method of player evaluation.
In his 2006 book “Built to Win,” Schuerholz was critical of the popular baseball book “Moneyball” and the evaluation methods it espouses. That makes him good in my book, and now Gillick has inscribed his name in it.
GOVERNMENT WISELY GIVES UP
In these perilous economic times, government waste is a popular topic of discussion. Care for a baseball-related example of government waste? Look at the money and time federal authorities spent in the six and a half years they spent trying to gain control of a list of 100 or so baseball players who tested positive in 2003 for steroids use.
In what amounted to illegal search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment, agents seized test results from one laboratory and identifying numbers from another. The players’ union had agreed to the survey testing in the condition that the results would be anonymous.
The government didn’t care about the agreement. Agents were seeking results of 10 players’ tests, and they grabbed everything in sight. The union sued the government for the return of the seized stuff and won in three different federal courts.
However, the government won on appeal in a 2-1 vote in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. It was then the union’s turn to act, and it asked the appellate court to hear the appeal en banc, meaning an 11-judge panel. Twice, in August 2009 and last September, the judges ruled 9-2 in the union’s favor.
The government could have appealed those decisions to the United States Supreme Court, but last Friday the Justice Department said it would not appeal, thus ending the case.
The union has been criticized for not destroying the test results when it had the opportunity and the right, under agreement with the commissioner’s office, to do it. However, the union was aware that the government was seeking the results and didn’t want to be accused of obstructing an investigation if it destroyed the results.
One threat to the players’ anonymity remains. A few names of players have surfaced in the past year or so, and speculation has centered on the possibility that a federal agent or other employee leaked the names, disgruntled that the government couldn’t use the names. If that scenario is what happened, additional leaks could be forthcoming.
MY PERSONAL JOURNALISM LESSON
No matter how many years or decades one toils in this reporting/writing business (I almost wrote newspaper business, but you’re not holding this in your hands and folding pages, are you?), it is never too late to learn something or have a previously learned lesson reinforced.
Such a moment occurred for me last week when a mistake I made reminded me that a reporter always has to check and verify his information and not take any information for granted. In writing a column about Marvin Miller’s latest failure to be elected to the Hall of Fame, I incorrectly identified one of the five members of the committee who blocked Miller’s election.
Tom Verducci wrote in his SI.com blog that contrary to what I wrote, he voted for Miller. I have no first-hand knowledge of that fact any more than I had of my reporting that he didn’t vote for Miller. The Hall of Fame does not disclose how its committee members vote. However, in this instance I will take Verducci’s word.
When I reported his alleged no vote, I was basing it on what Miller told me he had heard. Miller was not wrong for telling me what he heard; I was wrong for reporting it without checking it. The blame is strictly mine.
In 99.99 percent – no, make that 100 percent – of previous articles or columns, I checked something like that and confirmed it to my satisfaction before writing it. I should have done that in this instance and not taken a shortcut, but I was unable to because I was out of the country on vacation with no access to information, such as telephone numbers or e-mail addresses, for people who might have known.
In retrospect, I should not have identified anyone as having voted against Miller; I should just have let the numbers speak for themselves. Had I subsequently been able to identify the nay-sayers, I could have then named them. It is a routine I would have followed in every other instance and should have this time. I regret that I did not. I further regret any embarrassment I might have caused Miller and Verducci.