PHILADELPHIA – Pat Gillick was watching a ballgame. Nothing really unusual about that. The 71-year-old baseball lifer has spent much of his adulthood around ballparks. But this was different.
It was a high school game in Michigan leading up to the state championship earlier this year. That wasn’t the part that was different. The former Philadelphia Phillies general manager is a scout at heart and has spent countless hours at tiny high schools, trying to project how a skinny youngster will look several years down the road.
The visiting team scored in the top of the first.
The home team scored 19 in the bottom of the inning. The player he came to see, shortstop Daniel Butler, had three at-bats within a half-hour before the game was called under the mercy rule.
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“I can’t recall ever seeing that before,” Gillick said by phone recently.
Gillick went out on top last fall, retiring as general manager after the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.
The two teams met again this week at Tropicana Field, a rematch of last October. Gillick has been largely out of sight in the interim, especially since the end of spring training. His job title – senior adviser to the president/general manager — conjures up a mental image of a rocking chair and slippers. In this case, that would be misleading. He hopscotched all over during the weeks leading up to the June draft, helping the Phillies prepare.
“I think he saw, I don’t know what the total finally was. But he saw a bunch of ’em,” said Ruben Amaro Jr., who succeeded Gillick as general manager. “And he made contact with a lot of parents and continues to do that, trying to help get our guys signed.”
Said Gillick: “When I left, I said I’d probably do spring training and then another portion of the season up to the draft and do as much as I possibly could. In July and August, probably not as much.
“I kept pretty much to the West Coast. I didn’t do much east of Denver. I saw a couple (players) in Florida and a couple more on the way home (to Seattle).”
Along the way, he scouted Kelly Dugan at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The Phillies ended up making Dugan their first pick. Gillick laughed and said it was just a coincidence that he and Dugan attended the same high school.
“It’s kind of exciting,” he said. “You never know in this game. There’s a lot of coincidental stuff if you hang around long enough. Like the kid we drafted from Edmonton (right handed pitcher Steven Inch). His father worked with (former Blue Jays president) Paul Beeston in London, Ontario. I didn’t realize that until we were talking to the father.”
Beeston was an accountant at the time. Gillick, onetime general manager of the Jays, worked with him in Toronto for 18 years. Small world, indeed.
Gillick has also had input at the major league level. Before joining the Phillies, he worked for the Seattle Mariners, first as the GM (2000 to 2003) and then as a consultant. One of the players he had was an outfielder named Raul Ibañez.
Amaro and Gillick probably talk four or five times a week.
“It’s great,” Amaro said. “Even during the course of the trade discussions we’ve had with other clubs, getting his advice. He’s advising, and that’s what we asked him do. So he’s been helping (club president Dave Montgomery) and he’s been helping me. We’ve kicked around a lot of different ideas on things that have popped up. He’s been a great resource for me and I’m glad to have him.
“I guess there are times when some guys might feel threatened by that. But I’m the kind of guy who, if there’s somebody who can help us, especially somebody of his ilk and his knowledge and his background, I would be really dumb not to use him.”
Gillick plans to cut back on his workload the next couple of months, including spending some time at his summer home on Prince Edward Island.
Of course, that’s all relative.
He’s keeping an eye on some of the players the Phillies are still trying to sign, including Inch, third-rounder Kyrell Hudson and 33rd-rounder Colin Kleven. He’ll attend the All-Star Futures game in St. Louis next month. He’ll drop into Clearwater, Fla., and check in on some of the youngsters with the Class A Threshers and Gulf Coast League Phillies.
He will be intimately involved in all discussions leading up to the July 31 trading deadline.
And he still follows the Phillies closely, watching their games on television as often as he can.
One thing he can’t do, though, is explain why the team has been so successful on the road while struggling at home.
“I can’t figure that one out,” he said. “That’s kind of a puzzler. You’d think it would be the other way around with the guys we’ve got in our lineup.”