Pat Gillick of the Philadelphia Phillies is trying to outwit 20-something GMs with his old-school style.
At 68, Pat Gillick does not quite fit the image of wonder boy. Well into his fourth decade in the business of Major League Baseball, the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies hardly looks like an example of the trend sweeping the sport: the hiring of freshly minted, number-crunching, 20-something executives straight out of business school and, one supposes, frat-house fantasy leagues.Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, Gillick belongs more to the "old" school, an era when determining a player's value required a clipboard, not a hard drive. His preferred reading is a scouting report - how well a player handles the curve ball, can he go from first to third on a base hit - rather than a spreadsheet that parses OPS and WHIP (that's on-base plus slugging and walks plus hits per innings pitched, for the uninitiated). And while he's evolved, employing some decidedly modern techniques to his ancient methods, Gillick seems determined to show that he isn't ready to become a museum piece.
Indeed, the "old" way has served Gillick well. The Toronto Blue Jays team he built in the early 1990s won two World Series. The Baltimore Orioles, once challengers to Yankees/Red Sox dominance in the American League East, haven't had a winning season since he left - eight years ago. And the 2001 Seattle Mariners, where he was top dog, still hold the record for most wins in a season.
Gillick, who joined the Phillies this past off-season, is bemused by the "new" trend, which has been labeled, for better or worse, "Moneyball." That was the title of Michael Lewis's bestselling book about the Oakland A's and general manager Billy Beane, an outside-the-box thinker who turned conventional wisdom on its head by building ball clubs with the aid of mathematicians, sabremetricians, and assorted pocket-protector- wearing stats geeks.
"I guess it's supposed to be new-fangled, but I don't know if there's anything truly new under the sun," Gillick says.
It seemed new-fangled when the Boston Red Sox hired Theo Epstein as general manager while he was still in his 20s. After the Red Sox 2004 World Series win, the franchise's first in more than eight decades, Moneyball gained even more cachet. Meanwhile, Oakland has been able to remain competitive despite having one of the game's smaller payrolls. In the past couple of years, other franchises have followed Oakland's and Boston's lead.
For instance, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays brought in 29-year-old Andrew Friedman to run the team's baseball operations and he, in turn, hired James Click, a 29-year-old Yale grad who worked previously for Baseball Prospectus, a cutting-edge statistics service. And last October, Texas replaced longtime GM John Hart, who had twice taken teams to the World Series, with 28-year-old Jon Daniels, only a few years removed from Cornell.
Other clubs went right to the source, poaching directly from Epstein's and Beane's staffs. At 35, Josh Byrnes was practically a grizzled veteran when he left the Red Sox last year to become the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Toronto Blue Jays recruited Oakland's player-personnel director, J.P. Ricciardi, as their manager in 2001, while the Los Angeles Dodgers hired the Athletics' assistant general manager, Paul DePodesta, who majored in economics at Harvard. (Proving that there may be limitations to the wonder of Moneyball, the Dodgers fired DePodesta after a brief and failed tenure.)
The Phillies' hiring of Gillick, on the other hand, seemed conservative by comparison, even quaint. The new guns in baseball aren't old enough to remember that Gillick himself was a wunderkind much like themselves. The fact is, they weren't even born yet. Gillick began working as the assistant minor-league director for the Houston Astros in 1963. He was just 26, six years after graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in business. He had entered USC at age 16.