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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 6, 2010 at 9:31 AM

Thoughts on new Hall of Famer Pat Gillick — and those who didn’t get in

gillickresigns.jpg

(Pat Gillick talks to reporters after resigning as Mariners’ GM in September of 2003. BTW, that’s former Seattle Times beat writer Bob Finnigan with the green shirt and pensive expression. Seattle Times staff photo).

Congratulations to former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, a deserving Hall of Fame inductee today by the Veterans Committee.

I’m surprised, but hardly outraged, that George Steinbrenner, on the ballot less than a year after his death, didn’t get in. I have very mixed feelings about Steinbrenner’s candidacy. On the one hand, he built a dynasty in New York (two dynasties, in fact) and was a compelling, singular figure in baseball history. That will eventually get him into the Hall of Fame, I feel confident. On the other hand, he was also bombastic, dictatorial, fostered the age of checkbook baseball, and was suspended twice by baseball, once after pleading guilty to making illegal political campaign contributions, the other time for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, the Hall of Fame outfielder with whom he clashed after signing him to a big contract and then deriding as “Mr. May.” Not quite a slam dunk.

I thought this might be the year for union founder Marvin Miller, but for the fifth time he was rejected — this time by one vote. Still feisty at 93, Miller let ‘er rip in a statement he released:

“The Baseball Hall of Fame’s vote (or non-vote) of December 5, hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring.

“Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it. The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players’ union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment, and as an industry. The union was the moving force in bringing Major League Baseball from the 19th century to the 21st century. It brought about expansion of the game to cities that had never had a Major League team. It brought about more than a 50% increase in the number of people employed as players, coaches, trainers, managers, club presidents, attorneys and other support personnel, employees of concessionaires, stadium maintenance personnel, parking lot attendants, and more. It converted a salary structure from one with a $6,000 a year minimum salary to a $414,000 a year salary from the first day of a player’s Major League service. The union was also the moving force for changing the average Major League salary from $19,000 a year to more than $3 million a year, and the top salary from $100,000 to more than $25 million a year. The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all Major League clubs, combined – from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year’s almost $7 billion a year. That is a difficult record to eradicate – and the Hall has failed to do it.

“A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence. Its failure is exemplified by the fact that I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity, and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history. It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out.”

I’m not sure if the Hall of Fame is quite as Draconian as he makes it out to be, but there is absolutely no question in my mind Miller deserves to be in the Hall. When it comes to impact on the game, few can compare to Miller, whose union did indeed help drag baseball from the 19th century to the 21st.

Gillick, meanwhile, becomes the fifth Hall of Famer with ties to the Mariners. There’s Gaylord Perry, who pitched for Seattle in 1982-83, winning his 300th game in a Mariner uniform. There’s Goose Gossage, who finished his career with the Mariners in 1994. There’s Dick Williams, who managed the M’s in 1986-88. And there’s Paul Molitor, the Mariners’ hitting coach in 2004. (No, Dave Niehaus is not in the Hall of Fame. He received the Frick award for broadcast excellence during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a tremendous achievement, but that’s not quite the same thing as being inducted into the Hall of Fame). Note: Thanks to Mariners’ director of baseball information Tim Hevly for pointing out that Bill Mazeroski was an M’s coach in 1979-80. So that makes Gillick the sixth Hall of Famer with ties to the Mariners.

Gillick, you might recall, inherited a messy situation when he became M’s GM in 1999. He had both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. nearing the ends of their contract in the same season (after 2000), and had to navigate the trade of Griffey to Cincinnati. Gillick did well enough in a no-win situation (with Griffey limiting the teams to which he could be traded), netting a player in Mike Cameron who had an excellent stint in Seattle. But the rest of the players acquired — Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez and Jake Meyer — had minimal or no impact.

In a 2006 interview I did with Gillick during spring training in Clearwater, Florida, after he took over the Phillies, he admitted that in retrospect he wished he had traded Rodriguez, and not Griffey. Imagine how that would have re-routed Mariners’ history.

“I possibly traded the wrong guy,” Gillick told me. “If I had to do it over again, I should maybe have traded Alex. Even though he was only one year away from free agency, I probably could have gotten more for Alex than we could for Griffey.”

I’ve never seen anyone better than Gillick at constructing a roster — not necessarily with marquee names, either. I think of his first two years in Seattle when he had a remarkable run of free-agent successes, including Stan Javier, Mark McLemore, Bret Boone, John Olerud, Arthur Rhodes, Aaron Sele, Kaz Sasaki, Jeff Nelson, and, of course, Ichiro. Sure, he lucked out in some instances, and the Ichiro acquisition was done at a higher level than GM. But the success of the 2001 team, in particular, was a testament to his team-building skills.

I know the rap against Gillick was that he tended to leave farm systems bereft of talent, and that he knew when to exit a team just before it hit hard times. I never bought that. Yes, the Orioles and Mariners, in particular, and to a lesser extent the Blue Jays, floundered after he left. But perhaps that was because they no longer had Gillick around to make the decisions and guide the direction of the franchise.

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