Pat Gillick: Under the radar and into the Hall

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Pat Gillick holds his plaque after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - The Phillies threw a big party for Pat Gillick on Saturday night at The Farmers' Museum and it was the United Nations of upstate New York, people from Canada and the Caribbean, from Seattle and Baltimore and Toronto and Philadelphia, from there and from all of the places where Gillick did the work that resulted in his induction yesterday into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Toward the end of the night, Phillies president David Montgomery handed his former general manager a microphone. He is an interesting personality, Gillick, the recognized architect of winning teams all over this continent who nevertheless seems most comfortable when he can slip into a crowded room unnoticed.

Which is why you couldn't help but smile when he looked around at the people at the party and said, "I hope that this is for all of the people in the game who work under the radar."

There was no hiding yesterday for Gillick, no nondescript windbreaker, no baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, no solitary contemplation of a 20-year-old first baseman on a distant practice field struggling to get his footwork right. The speech, the adulation of thousands at an annual induction ceremony that also included Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, that isn't the man. Telling stories about traveling under an assumed name, or climbing into a tree and watching a prospect through binoculars so that none of his rivals would find out he was interested - that's the man.

I remember going up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre once - I think it was to see Cole Hamels pitch right before the Phillies called him up. I wanted to include a line in the column about whether Gillick was scouting Hamels that night and asked an SWB official. He said Gillick wasn't there. That's what I wrote.

A couple of days later, at Citizens Bank Park, a Phillies official came up to me, laughing.

"Pat was there that night," he said.

"But I asked, and they said . . . "

"He didn't tell them he was there - he likes it better that way."

Gillick is someone who, over a half-century, learned the business, learned to trust his eyes, learned to respect hard work. He would return to that topic several times during his talk yesterday.

He said he wouldn't be standing where he was without the hard work of everyone in every baseball organization that hired him, but "my particular thanks go to the scouts and the player-development staff. They find the players and prepare them for major league baseball. The hard work, dedication and advice from the player-development staff are what builds championships."

Gillick, who went in with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, is the first general manager inducted in 40 years. The truth is that general managers do not sell tickets. But everyone in the game knows how vital the work is, how even talented players could not reach their peak without it.

But Gillick wanted to emphasize the point. So, painstakingly, he mentioned a couple of dozen names in his talk, just reeling them off as he traveled from stop to stop in his career - mostly first names, just tumbling out of his mouth, of scouts and secretaries and everybody in between, because this was for them as much as it was for him and he wanted to make sure they knew it.

When he got to his last stop, he called his time as the Phillies' general manager "an incredible capstone to my career."

"Philadelphia loves its team, and being able to win a World Series for the city, fans, players and our Phillies organization meant so much to me."

He thanked Montgomery and the owners by name, adding that "I know that somewhere up there, Whip and Jimmy [Buck, who passed away in the last year] are rooting for the Phillies."

Then he thanked a whole big bunch of people, including Ruben Amaro Jr., his successor. Gillick said they still talk three times a week, and now about once a day with the trade deadline approaching. He says he is happy with his role as an adviser, and with doing some scouting on the West Coast, and while denying reports of a recent flirtation with the Cubs, Gillick said that only the offer of a club presidency from somebody might entice him to leave.

If it ever happened, Gillick would do worse than to lift a paragraph from his speech as his new organization's mission statement:

"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. "Baseball is about talent and hard work and strategy, but at the deepest level it is about love and integrity and respect - respect for the game, respect for your colleagues, respect for the shared bond that is bigger than any one of us."

Spoken like a man who never needed a plaque on a wall to validate a baseball life.