Pat’s Cooperstown Weekend
(Back in the swing again after a wonderful weekend in Cooperstown, NY, for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, my fifth. It doesn’t get old).
Cooperstown is a little village nestled in the green mountains of central New York. Population of around 2,100 swells twice its normal size around this time of the year. Folks around the village still talk about the sea of red Phillies fans that turned out for the Mike Schmidt/Richie Ashburn induction in 1995.
That crowd wasn’t duplicated this weekend. Oh, there were Phillies fans but more than that, there were a lot of Pat Gillick fans, particularly from baseball. After all, he had worked for six different organizations in 50-plus years and was the GM of four teams over 27 years, winning three World Series, two in Toronto. We all know and appreciate the third.
Hall officials said more baseball scouts than normal were in attendance, largely because of Pat. Following a minor league career as a pitcher, he began scouting for Houston. He ended up as the GM of the World Champion Phillies three years ago.
Scouting has been and still is his passion. He’s back doing that as a special assistant for the Phillies these days.
Scouts are the backbone of a successful organization. Their names aren’t household but so vital. They showed up to share the special weekend with Pat. In his speech, he said, “I feel like I represent the guys in the trenches.”
John Scheurholz, Bobby Cox, GMs Dave Dombrowski, Walt Jocketty, Bob Melvin and Kevin Towers were among his former colleagues that journeyed to Cooperstown. That was quite a tribute.
Pat’s now a member of a special fraternity, Hall of Famers. The weekend is an annual reunion which will be part of his life going forward.
The Otesaga Hotel is the headquarters. Fans are not permitted on the property, only those with HOF credentials. The north side of the hotel features a long veranda that overlooks Lake Otesgo, a body of water that stretches nine miles, farther than the eye can see. The veranda was filled with Hall of Famers and their families. So was the lobby.
Two of Pat’s teammates from the 1959 Stockton, CA, minor league team came from the west coast to share the weekend with Pat, INF Pete Ward and OF Ray Youngdahl. They left after Pat’s speech on Sunday to drive to Chicago to get a flight to the west coast. That’s dedication to an old teammate.
Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey broke in pro ball in the same year in the same league as Pat. He and Pat relived memories and talked baseball. “Did you know Doug could recite the rule book?” Pat asked. “He’s never been asked by baseball to talk to young umpires about umpiring. That’s a mistake.”
Pat, a left-handed pitcher, spent time with Earl Weaver, his manager 51 years ago in the minor leagues. When asked for a scouting report on Pat, Weaver said, “I thought he was a prospect. Great curve ball and great pick-off move. I had him twice. When he decided to enter player development with the Astros, Pat called me for advice. I told him I thought he was a prospect but he had to make the final decision. I guess he made the right decision.”
Inductees were given guidelines for the acceptance speeches. No. 1, limit is 10 minutes. At breakfast on Friday morning, Pat said, “Just rehearsed my speech….again. Came to 10 minutes, 20 seconds. Guess I have to cut off 20 seconds,” he said laughing.
While walking past his room two hours before the Sunday ceremonies, one could faintly hear him rehearsing again. Pat’s an emotional person and he shows that emotion very easily. Everyone who knew Pat well, expected tears during his speech. Everyone was wrong. But, the tears came when he went to sit down.
A bus load of Phillies employees made the trip for Sunday’s induction. With the team at home, not as many employees could attend. Phillies executives, who shared many a meeting with Pat when he was the GM, were there for the weekend and departed after Sunday’s ceremony so they could be back in time for Monday’s afternoon game with the Padres.
Pat will be back at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night. The Phillies will salute him pre-game. Tears? Book it.