By Art Martone
Lou Gorman, the affable New England native who helped turn around the fortunes of the Red Sox when he was named general manager in 1984, died Friday of congestive heart failure. He was 82.
Red Sox statement on the passing of Gorman
"Lou Gorman was a legendary figure in the game of baseball," said Red Sox owner John W. Henry in a statement released Friday afternoon by the team. "Over the course of a career that spanned five decades, Lou helped to build winning teams across the sport, including the 1986 American League Champion Red Sox.
"Lou also served his country with honor and distinction, spending more than eight years of active service in the United States Navy. Above all else, Lou Gorman was a profoundly decent man who always had a kind word and an optimists perspective."
When Gorman took over the Sox, they were coming off their first losing season in 17 years and reeling from the aftereffects of an ownership civil war that had resulted in the trades or loss, via free agency, of many of their 1970s stars. The battle ended early in 1984 when Buddy LeRoux lost his court case against fellow general partners Jean Yawkey and Haywood Sullivan, effectively stripping LeRoux of power and putting YawkeySullivan in sole charge of the team. Gorman, who had been hired as a vice-president of baseball operations in January 1984, was named full-time GM in June.
He had worked in the front offices of the San Francisco Giants (as GM of one of their farm teams), Baltimore Orioles (director of player development), Kansas City Royals (assistant general manager), Seattle Mariners (general manager) and New York Mets (vice-president of player personnel). He helped build championship teams in Baltimore, Kansas City and New York.
Gorman, who was 55 when he took over the Red Sox, immediately put a human face on a franchise that had alienated its fan base over the previous five years with the jettisoning of stars and the ugly legal wrangling between LeRoux and SullivanYawkey. He made himself accessible to both fans and media, tapped into the team's rich history -- it was early in his stewardship that the Sox officially retired the numbers of Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Joe Cronin -- and slowly began rebuilding the Sox' image.
"Lou Gorman was first and foremost a gentleman: kind, warm, decent, and positive," said Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. "He treated everyone with dignity and saw each person he encountered as a potential friend."
He also began rebuilding the team on the field, and his efforts paid off in an American League championship -- and near-World Series title -- in 1986. The Sox also won two other A.L. East titles under Gorman, in 1988 and 1990, making him the first executive in team history to lead the team to three postseason appearances. (There was no formal GM when the Sox won four World Series titles in the seven seasons from 1912-18.)
"If I was in another city," Gorman once joked, "they'd build a statue of me."
The statement had a tinge of frustration in it, as Gorman came under fire in the later years of his reign for the team's failure to break through to a World Series titles. Three particular incidents marred his image:
When the team was involved in what became a bitter contract squabble with Roger Clemens in 1987 -- MLB was in the midst of collusion by the owners to stifle salaries, and Gorman's hands were tied in the negotiations -- he was asked what would happen if Clemens left camp, as he was threatening to do. "The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I'll have lunch," he replied . . . and the remark stuck to him.
In 1990, the Oakland A's -- who would wind up being the Sox' opponents in the upcoming ALCS -- acquired star outfielders Harold Baines and Willie McGee to bolster their postseason chances. When asked why the Sox didn't put in waiver claims for the two, Gorman asked, "What would we do with them?" The message it sent -- that the Sox were unwilling to do whatever they could to strengthen the team -- reverberated for years.
The one trade that Gorman did make down the stretch in 1990 -- swapping future star Jeff Bagwell for journeyman reliever Larry Andersen -- proved disastrous, though Gorman would defend it to his dying day. His point: The Sox were headed to the playoffs and needed immediate relief help, and no one knew how good a player Bagwell would wind up being. But Andersen pitched inconsequentially in Boston for one month and declared for free agency after the year, while Bagwell had a Hall of Fame-caliber career in Houston.
Gorman's trading record, in toto, was strong: He fleeced the Cubs for all-time saves leader in Lee Smith in 1987, and acquired key '86 pieces Spike Owen and Dave Henderson for next-to-nothing. His now-is-more-important-than-the-future defense of BagwellAndersen actually was more accurate in his trade of future stars Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker in '88. Boddicker helped the Sox to division titles in '88 and '90, and it took years for Anderson and Schilling to develop into the players they became.
In addition, the Sox farm system produced such 1990s icons as Mo Vaughn, Tim Naehring, Aaron Sele and John Valentin during Gorman's time as GM.
The Sox, as an organization, appeared to commit themselves to an all-out effort to win the World Series before Yawkey died, and in the late '80s and early '90s Gorman signed a profligate number of free agents -- Jack Clark, Danny Darwin, Matt Young, Tony Pena, Frank Viola -- in an unsuccessful attempt to secure a championship. The effort failed; Yawkey died in early 1992 and the signings had the multipronged effect of bloating the payroll, making the team older and less athletic, and depleting the farm system. The Sox finished under .500 in 1992 and at .500 in '93, at which point ownership kicked Gorman upstairs and hired Dan Duquette as GM.
But Gorman stayed with the organization and was a constant figure at Fenway Park, greeting people with his unflappable good nature. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.
"They just dont make them like Lou Gorman," said Lucchino.
"I had a wonderful friendship with Lou Gorman, a great gentleman,for decades," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig in a statement. "A Navy man who became a baseball man, Lou guided the frontoffice of the Seattle Mariners from their inception and later helpedbuild the farm system of the New York Mets in the early '80s. Thenative New Englander then led the 'Olde Towne Team,' highlighted by the1986 American League pennant for his beloved Red Sox."Lou was a perpetual optimist, a wonderful storyteller, and acontributor to many outstanding baseball causes, such as the Red SoxHall of Fame and the Baseball Assistance Team. On behalf of MajorLeague Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Lou's family andhis many friends and admirers throughout the game of baseball."Gorman was born in Providence, RI, in 1929. Among his survivors is his wife, Mary Lou.
"His warm spirit and fundamental goodness will be greatly missed," said Henry.
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.