It is an honour usually bestowed on those happily resident in rocking chairs, looking back on their careers in past tense. But Pat Gillick, who is very good at very many things related to baseball, has never been very good at that.
Monday, Gillick was chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans' committee, though still actively engaged as a senior adviser to the Philadelphia Phillies, the most recent franchise to flourish under his stewardship.
His talents - and his quirks - are legendary. Gillick is, at heart, a scout of the old school, who loved to surround himself with the ancient wise men of the game long before he became one of them. He is blessed with a photographic memory, a remarkable repository of names and faces and telephone numbers which he can spin and access like one of those now-antique rolodexes.
In conversation, Gillick can be guarded and cryptic one moment and the next drop an ultrafrank bombshell, while thoroughly enjoying gauging its effect.
Coming from the Yankees' organization, he was a perfect fit to build a franchise from the ground up in Toronto - at least after the guy who hired him, Peter Bavasi, was run out of town. The big bosses then essentially allowed him to run the team as his own, in partnership with the ex-accountant who became the Mutt to his Jeff, Paul Beeston.
There was a time, just when it appeared the Jays were on the verge, when the impatient fans and the impatient sports press labelled him "Stand Pat" for his apparent unwillingness to pull the trigger on a big trade. That nickname was retired for all time when Gillick engineered the deal that brought Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to Toronto in return for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, four all-stars changing uniforms in a trade that transformed the Blue Jays from pretenders into a squad that would eventually win back-to-back championships.
Gillick first "retired" way back in the fall of 1994, with baseball shut down by the players' strike, around the time it became clear that the good times in Toronto were drawing to a close because of ownership uncertainty. He said that he might learn to fly, or perhaps take up golf.
Not a chance. He is still earthbound, still no golfer, and was back in the saddle a little over a year later in Baltimore, managing a difficult boss in Peter Angelos while building an Orioles team that made two trips to the American League Championship Series in Gillick's three years at the helm. Next stop, Seattle, two more trips to the ALCS, and a 116-win season. And finally - maybe - Philadelphia, where he technically stepped aside as general manager and into a consulting role after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, In the free-agency era of baseball, with its constantly shifting sands, no one has done it better.
"I don't think that you ever stop learning," Gillick said Monday, "because things happen differently every day. … That's one thing that's different with an older general manager. They've experienced a lot of situations. A younger general manager might be just as bright and just as creative, but they haven't experienced those situations."
It almost sounded like, at age 73, he's auditioning for another job …
As the accolades flow, all deserved, in recognition of Gillick's election - and Toronto baseball fans of a certain age temporarily retreat into the happy, nostalgic fog that has sustained them since 1993 - it would be irresponsible not to note some less joyous tidings.
Once again, Marvin Miller, the pioneering former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association and one of the most significant figures in 20th-century sports, period, was denied entry to Cooperstown, perhaps in part by those he helped the most.
This dance is becoming all too familiar, as one version or another of the veterans' committee chooses to bypass the now 93-year-old Miller. There were sixteen voters this time on a committee charged with identifying candidates from the expansion era (1973-present), with twelve votes required for election. Miller got eleven, which means that even if each of the management representatives on the committee chose not to vote for him - a reasonable assumption - at least one of the eight Hall of Fame players-managers in the voting group, or one of the four journalists, chose not to.
Whoever they are, they have shamed themselves.
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