Pat Gillick will be in the hall of fame this year, and if you are one who believes that executives and general managers belong in Cooperstown, he certainly deserves it. While he isn’t the revolutionary that say, Branch Rickey was, his success speaks for itself. It immediately brings to mind another GM who has been around roughly as long as Gillick has, has a similar record, and has done it with two organizations instead of Gillick’s four. You guessed it. It’s John Schuerholz I’m speaking of.
Like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are the cornerstones to which power hitters are judged, Branch Rickey, is the measure to which all GMs should be judged. While Rickey was certainly a very successful executive, he also more or less invented the modern general manager position and transcended all the usual criteria (championships, won-lost record, trades and signings) by being the one who broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson. He also helped invent the modern minor league farm system, where most minor league teams’ primary concern these days is nurturing and developing talent for the major league clubs. Without his record even being brought up, Rickey had accomplishments which made the game better, whatever his motives might have been.
Rickey’s teams were winners, also. While running the Cardinals form 1919-42, they were in five World Series, winning three. They had three other appearances in the 1940s, which were at least partially attributable to Rickey’s efforts. While with the Dodgers, he had two World Series appearances with no wins. However, it was the core of the team he put together that would be in the series five times in the 1950s, with two of them wins.
Rickey was also strong at finding and developing talent. Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial were among the Cardinals whom he signed and developed, while he was instrumental in the careers of Hall of Famers Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella. One of his last big signings was Roberto Clemente for the Pirates, who went on to not only open the gates for Latin American ballplayers, but also to become the cornerstone for the Pirates for the next two decades.
The only other non-ownership executive in the hall is Ed Barrow, who was hired by the Yankees in 1920 as “business manager” (as Rickey was also known) and helped direct the Yankees to 14 pennants and 10 World Series wins between 1921 and 1945 and also discovered Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. (It must be noted here that “non-ownership” is meant in the course of this article to mean anything less than a controlling share. At his height, Rickey owned a quarter share of the Dodgers and that surely gave him more power than a modern GM normally would have, and even Barrow owned a small stake of the Yankees toward the end of his career.)
Besides Barrow and Rickey, Gillick will be the first non-ownership general manager to get into the hall. As Toronto’s general manager, Gillick won five division titles (1985, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1993) and led the club to their first World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. He is considered by many to be the chief architect who transformed the club from an expansion franchise to a team to a perennial contender in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 1995, Gillick was named the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles and he guided the Orioles to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997. Gillick then became the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, who had parlayed their incredible 1995 playoff run into a new ballpark and the financial resources to become a perennial contender. Despite having to trade Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners under Gillick made back-to-back playoff appearances for the only time in franchise history in 2000 and 2001, and the 2001 team, with a 116-46 record, tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the all time major league record for most wins in a single season.
On Nov. 2, 2005, Gillick was named the Philadelphia Phillies’ general manager, and his team won a World Series in 2008 before he resigned in favor of Ruben Amaro Jr. He remains with the team as an advisor, and has said he is still interested in being a GM if the right opportunity comes up.
Gillick has displayed fine long-term player development skills. The Blue Jays championship teams on 1992 and 1993 featured a core of players who came up through the Blue Jays system, which Gillick was a part of since the team’s inception. Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key and Pat Hentgen were key starters, while John Olerud and Pat Borders were major contributors also. However, his success was buoyed by his trades and his ability to get quality performances by players supposedly on the downside of their careers.
Getting a young Roberto Alomar and veteran Joe Carter from the Padres made the offense dangerous, along with the signings of Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield. Especially crucial was the acquisition of Jack Morris, who won 21 games for them in 1992, his last truly productive season.
He further showed his ability to attract quality veterans in his stint with the Orioles, where he took an underachieving team to two straight playoff appearances in 1996 and 1997. He convinced a now-at-his peak Alomar to follow him from Toronto, and also signed reliable veterans Bobby Bonilla and B.J. Surhoff and a top-flight closer with Randy Myers. On top of that, he lured Davey Johnson over for a few seasons.
Among his greater accomplishments was making a contender out of the Seattle Mariners, even while losing Future Hall of Famers Rodriguez and Griffey. He brought over Aaron Sele, who had some of the best years of his career, along with Olerud, Bret Boone and Mike Cameron. It was Gillick who signed Ichiro Suzuki from Japan, and also originally signed Felix Hernandez. Once again, he showed an uncanny ability to lure veterans who weren’t necessarily superstars, and help create an environment for them where they flourished and helped make the teams successful.
He didn’t have to work ridiculous magic to help the Phillies win. They had a steady manager in Charlie Manuel and a reliable core of players in Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. His main role was adding bits and pieces to the mix. Aaron Rowand and Raul Ibanez filled needs in the outfield, while Brad Lidge, the roller coaster ride that he has been, has in the long run been a good closer. His late season acquisition of Cliff Lee in 2009 was instrumental in the Phillies’ late-season surge and playoff run, before the Yankees finally got the best of them.
Gillick has won wherever he has gone. He led Toronto on a journey from expansion cannon fodder to 1990s contenders, success the Jays have not been able to replicate. He had good runs with Baltimore and Seattle, which neither has been able to replicate, either. Although Amaro is in charge of the Phillies, Gillick’s stamp is all over that team. which is becoming another dynasty. While he didn’t have the pioneering spirit of Rickey, his ability to be successful in different scenarios over a long period of time makes him deserving of being in the Hall, and creates a benchmark for younger executives to shoot for.
Schuerholz is a contemporary of Gillick, who, while best known as the architect of the 1990s-2000s Atlanta Braves, spent many successful years as GM in Kansas City. Like Gillick, he didn’t invent anything new, but has shown a knack over the last three decades to putting together and maintaining quality baseball teams.
He took over as Kansas City GM for Joe Burke in 1982 after spending years in the front office. The Royals were in the middle of a great run: Between 1976 and 1985, they had seven playoff appearances, including two World Series, one of them a win. Under Schuerholz, they were a little more up and down than in Burke’s tenure, but they did win their only world championship, and were generally a solid team until he left in 1990.
In 1991, he took over the Atlanta Braves, who had only two playoff appearances to show for their 25 years in Atlanta. Under Schuerholz (with no small credit to Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine), they went on a run of 11 straight playoff appearances, plus 14 years out 15. They went to five World Series, of which they won one. Naysayers like to point to the only one World Series win with a pitching staff of three Hall of Fame caliber aces as a disappointment, and perhaps it is at some level, but to achieve the consistency the 1990s Braves did was no small feat.
Schuerholz began to prove he could win with the Royals. Burke had put together a strong veteran team with help from Schuerholz that by 1982 was beginning to age. George Brett, Willie Wilson and Don Quisenberry were at their peak, but the rotation pitchers (Larry Gura, Vida Blue, Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff) were all older than 30, as were other veterans Frank White and Hal McRae.
Schuerholz made the team younger, while still getting strong performances from some of the veterans. They made it in the playoffs in 1984, when Bud Black hit his stride, winning 17 games with an 3.12 ERA, while other youngsters like Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza and Steve Balboni came on to aid guys like Brett and White.
In 1985, the pieces came together. Brett was healthy and had one of the best years of his career, Balboni hit 36 bombs and Quisenberry had 37 saves and a 2.37 ERA. The real story, however, was the rotation, where the five starters, averaging just over 24 years of age, had impressive seasons. Saberhagen, just 21, won 20 games and had a 2.87 ERA (won a Cy Young that year) and old man Charlie Leibrandt, 28, won 17 with a 2.69 ERA. They ended up defeating the Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark-led Cardinals in seven games.
The next year, 1986, saw the tragic departure of Dick Howser, diagnosed with a brain tumor halfway through the year, and the team was not the same for the rest of Schuerholz’s tenure. The Royals did win 92 games in 1989 under John Wathan, but were still seven games behind the Bash Brothers-era Oakland A’s, who would go on to win the World Series that year.
In 1991, he inherited the rebuilding Atlanta Braves. They had the year before traded away fading franchise icon Dale Murphy and were rebuilding around young slugger David Justice and phenom pitchers Smoltz and Glavine. This supposedly re-building team responded by getting all the way to the World Series, which they lost to the Minnesota Twins.
Once again, much of the groundwork was already laid by his predecessors and he had Bobby Cox as a manager. He did however add Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard, who would be strong Braves contributors for years. They did pretty much the same thing in 1992, ripping the hearts out of the Pittsburgh Pirates (for good?) before going down in the World Series again, this time to Gillick’s Blue Jays.
Feeling something was missing, he signed Greg Maddux the following year, and although they went down that year in the NLCS to the Phillies, the stage was set, and Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine went on to dominate the next decade, making up one of the best front-end rotations to ever play the game. They were 68-46, second place in the strike-shortened 1994 season, but came back in 1995 to win their only World Series during his tenure, beating the Indians in six games. Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones teamed with Justice to form a powerful lineup. Maddux was unbelievable that year, going 19-2 with 10 complete games, a 1.63 ERA and a truly sick 0.81 WHIP. He also averaged 7.8 srtikeouts per nine innings,pretty strong for someone known as a control guy.
They had another World Series appearance in 1996, this time going down to the emerging dynasty that was the New York Yankees. They won over 100 games in both 1997 and 1998, and made it to the NLCS both times, losing to eventual world champs the Marlins and Padres, respectively. The next year saw them make it to the World Series once again, going down once again to the Yankees. This year saw Chipper Jones hit 45 bombs, and Kevin Millwood, as fourth starter, win 18 games, strike out 203, and have a WHIP of 0.99.
The year 2000 was a relative disappointment. Smoltz was out all season and Millwood came back down to earth, and although the Braves made it into the playoffs and had 95 wins, they were swept in the divisional series by the St. Louis Cardinals. The following season they made it all the way to the NLCS before falling to the eventual world champ Diamondbacks. They won over 100 games in each of the next two seasons, but did not make it past the divisional series. They didn’t make it out of the divisional series in 2004 or 2005 either, despite winning over 90 games and winning their division. That was it for the playoff streak. For Schuerholz’s remaining two years, they finished around the .500 record, going into re-building mode while in 2007, Schuerholz turned GM duties over to Frank Wren, becoming ream president.
A large share of the credit for the Braves success in the 1990s and after must go to Cox, and the ownership which wasn’t afraid to both stock up the farm system and still play the free agent market. Schuerholz, however, had an eye for talent. He signed Chipper Jones, who will certainly be a Hall of Famer, and also was behind signing Rafael Furcal, Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones, who have had long, productive major league careers.
It must also be remembered that in his Royals days, he switched out an aging rotation with future stars Saberhagen, Gubicza and Black, whom he had either signed or traded for at a very young age. Along with the young core, he wasn’t afraid to add to add free agents to help the team. His signing of Maddux in 1993 was a coup that was instrumental in the Braves long playoff runs. He got a dominant year in 2000 from Andres Galarraga.
He also made some fine trades. His acquisition of McGriff from a downsizing Padres team was a huge contribution toward the Braves’ mid-1990s successes, perhaps the team at its peak. He was also able to keep his core talent happy, but also knew when it was time to move on. Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine all played their peak years as Braves, and although they had some reasonably productive post-Braves years, there is no question where their best years were spent. Same goes with Furcal, Klesko and especially Andruw Jones.
Schuerholz will be remembred for his consistency. Some may call the Braves teams a disappointment with their inability to win the big one only once, but it could also be said his World Series losses were to the Yankees, who spent ridiculously, and his NLCS losses were to the Marlins, Padres and Diamondbacks, three teams that gutted their farm systems and way over-spent for their championships. While the Marlins succeeded a few years later pretty much doing the same thing, the Padres and Diamondbacks organizations have never truly recovered. Throughout all that time, Schuerholz has kept the Braves competitive every year until 2006, and they seem to be returning to form with a playoff appearance in 2010 and a highly regarded squad going into 2011.
Schuerholz with Gillick, both are undoubtedly winners. Gillick as a GM had some rough years with the expansion era Blue Jays, but turned them into a championship-caliber team in the early 1990s. He had shorter, yet successful, runs with the Orioles and Mariners, and his latest success with the Phillies. Until he stepped down after the 2008 season, his teams had 11 playoff appearances, including three World Series wins.
Schuerholz took over a veteran-laden Royals team in 1982 and had two playoff appearances, including a 1985 World Series win. After a few more up and down years with the Royals, he took over the Braves and had all those straight playoff runs, including one championship and two losses. Gillick, with his World Series wins and success in different scenarios is slightly superior here, but Schuerholz’s consistency cannot be ignored.
As far as player development: Aside from possibly Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, Gillick didn’t sign any Hall of Fame talent, but he did sign players like Dave Stieb, John Olerud and David Wells who had long careers, and also players like Ed Sprague, Mike Timlin and Todd Stottlemyre, who would play key roles on his championship teams. He didn’t make any major signings for the veteran-dominated Orioles, and for the Mariners, his legacy lives on with Ichiro and Hernandez, the two remaining stars of a team in decline.
Schuerholz’s biggest signing was Chipper Jones, who has a high probability of making it to theHhall when he retires. He also signed Andruw Jones, Klesko and Furcal, who played key roles on Braves playoff teams. Other signings of his include current Braves Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, Brian McCann and Tommy Hanson, and he still certainly plays an important role in personnel decisions.
Both did a good job signing A-level talent for their teams, but were also able to fill the gaps with role players when necessary.
They both made fine trades and free agent signings. Gillick’s acquisition of Alomar and Carter was crucial in setting the pace for Toronto’s championship runs. While with the Orioles, he brought on players like Alomar, Wells, Bonilla and Myers to charge up a mediocre Baltimore team. With Seattle, he brought in Sele and Brett Boone, who had career years, plus Olerud and Cameron. In 2008, he won the seemingly yearly Cliff Lee sweepstakes, and Lee was a huge difference maker in the Mariners’ playoff run that year.
Schuerholz, in his first year brought in Bream, Pendleton and Belliard, not superstars, but guys who played pivotal roles in turning Atlanta from cellar dweller to perennial contender. He signed Maddux in 1993 and traded for McGriff in 1994. To supplement the Big Three, he brought in Denny Neagle at one point and also got quality work from John Burkett.
What ultimately makes Schuerholz different was his creation of a lasting, winning culture in Atlanta. He had the Big Three there most of his tenure, plus other quality guys like Chipper Jones, but because of the realities of free agency, the rest of the team was continually evolving. Despite that, the focus and professionalism, year in and year out, were testament to a very cohesive unit that stayed that way despite continually evolving.
Another sign of the strong culture was the willingness of top-notch players like Maddux and Smoltz to play the bulk of their careers there in spite of potential benefits elsewhere. Gillick has fancier hardware in his trophy case and his skills at making winners out of whatever he has touched is undeniable. He also created roughly similar successful cultures in Toronto and Philadelphia. He is certainly deserving of being in the Hall, but looking at Schuerholz’s record, they should be making some room for him in Cooperstown also.