07/24/11 8:37 PM ET
Gillick looks back on 48 years in baseball
Former GM laments dwindling camaraderie in game
By Hal Bodley / MLB.com
The just-inducted Hall of Famer has been in baseball for nearly half a century, but sadly the game he entered as Houston's assistant farm director in 1963 is long gone.
Today, baseball is driven by high-tech gadgets, general managers who make their decisions from computer read-outs and the bottom line -- the almighty dollar.
That's a sad appraisal for many of us who've made the same journey over the last 50 years. The deep passion for the greatest sport ever invented remains, but the changes are difficult to stomach.
Gillick, a general manager for 27 years, had teams that went to the postseason 11 times and won three World Series titles. Today, he's obviously saddened by not-so-welcomed changes to the game he cherishes.
To Gillick, inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown on Sunday with Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, the camaraderie, and many of those feel-good moments of the past, are just not there anymore.
"No matter how much technology changes scouting, no matter how much free agency and big TV contracts change the business of baseball, I hope and pray that the heart of the game will never change," he said during his acceptance speech.
"Baseball is about talent and hard work and strategy, but at the deepest level it is about love, integrity and respect -- respect for the game, respect for your colleagues, respect for the shared bond that is bigger than any one of us."
An hour after the ceremony Gillick, 73, talked about how the front-office mentality of general managers has dramatically affected how deals are made.
He used one of the most important trades of his 27-year career as a GM as an example.
In December 1990, as Toronto Blue Jays GM, he traded All-Star shortstop Tony Fernandez and future All-Star first baseman Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for All-Star second baseman Alomar and future All-Star outfielder Joe Carter.
Alomar probably wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame had the deal not been made because he said Sunday he owes much of his career to his years in Toronto.
And as Toronto's general manager (1978-94), Gillick won five division titles (1985, 1989, 1991-93) and led the club to its first World Series championships in 1992, followed by another in 1993.
"My theory has always been -- sort of like the deal we made with Robbie [Alomar]; it was a good deal for both clubs. Now, it seems like people [GMs] want to hit a home run, hit a grand slam. That's why it's so difficult.
"But the real reason it's so different now is the contracts, the length of them and the amount of money involved. Twenty-five years ago we weren't talking about taking on contracts of somewhere between five and 20 million."
More important than that is the tremendous lack of camaraderie.
Gillick related a story from 1975 when he was a scout for the Yankees.
"I was trying to land an 18-year-old strapping first baseman from Blanco, Texas, population 200. His name was Willie Upshaw," Gillick said. "It turned out there were only three scouts who knew about Willie -- Dave Yocum and I working for the Yankees, and Al LaMacchia from the Atlanta Braves.
"Al and I played every trick we had, and in the end luck was on my side and the Yankees got Willie in the fifth round of the Draft. But he wasn't sure whether he wanted to play baseball or football."
Long story short: "Dave spent three days trying to sign Willie without any luck. I called Al LaMacchia to see if he would go with me to Blanco, Texas, to help convince Willie's family that baseball was the right decision," Gillick continued.
"Remember, Al and I had been fighting tooth and nail over Willie and the Draft, but he said he'd be happy to help. We sat in the living room, two scouts from rival teams, and talked with Willie and his family about the pros and cons."
Upshaw, of course, signed with the Yankees and it should be mentioned here that he went to the Blue Jays in 1977, chosen by Gillick in the Rule 5 Draft.
"Willie ended up having a great career in baseball," said Gillick. "Can you imagine that happening today? A rival scout taking time out of his schedule to go to the middle of nowhere to help a competitor and help a young man make the right decision for his future. That's just how we operated back then.
"We fought like heck for every player and every advantage, but we knew we were part of something bigger than ourselves. To me that is what baseball is all about. I hope it is always what baseball is all about."
When Gillick went to Toronto in 1976, he needed two special assistants. "I called Al at the Braves and offered him the job," Gillick said. "He was one of our vice presidents when we won the World Series in 1992 and 1993."
Gillick said in those days there "was extreme competition, but there was extreme camaraderie."
He made an example, using the baseball press box and reporters. "Thinking about the old days, if for some reason the reporter couldn't file a story, somebody might pick up the pieces and file the story. I don't think that would happen today. It might be a competitor, but at the same time it's a fraternity where you help somebody.
"In our business, I just don't feel the closeness and camaraderie among scouts. There's a different feeling there. It's not the same we had 30 years ago."
He added when trying to make a deal today with another GM, the difficult aspect "is when one of the parties overvalues the players involved. Like I said, they want to hit a home run."
Sunday, Gillick hit a home run. No questions asked.
And when he talked about camaraderie, all he had to do was look at the audience at Clark Sports Center. Seldom have there been so many general managers and club executives on hand for an induction ceremony.
They came to honor Gillick.
Enough said, which is a lot.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.