NEW ORLEANS — When Bill Bavasi became general manager of the Angels in 1994, he tried to pick the brain of his predecessor, Whitey Herzog.
"I called him once, and we chatted," Bavasi recalled. "Then he went fishing. I called him a second time and talked to his wife. I wanted some more help. I asked when he'd give me a call back, and she said, 'Well, probably never.'
"She's right. I'm still waiting for my call back."
Fast forward 10 years, and Bavasi is newly ensconced with the Mariners as GM, having replaced another high-profile baseball man, Pat Gillick.
But Gillick, who remained in the organization as a consultant, will play a far more significant role with the Mariners than Herzog did with the Angels — or than Gillick himself did during an unsatisfying 14-month advisory stint with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1994-95.
Gillick, who resigned in late September after four seasons as the Mariners' GM, now operates mainly out of his home in Toronto. He will be part of the team's brain trust at the winter meetings, which begin in New Orleans today, and has already been tapped by Bavasi for a variety of tasks.
Bavasi, in fact, is trying to live up to the vow he made at his introductory news conference, when he said, "Pat's still going to be a big part of this thing ... I'm not going to waste this opportunity. I'm going to wear him out. He'll end up being annoyed."
Already, Gillick has had a key role in recruiting free agents. He met in Puerto Rico with Raul Ibanez, who eventually signed with Seattle, and also presented the Mariners' case to potential free-agent targets Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada in the Dominican Republic.
"That was a huge move," Bavasi said. "The fact he did that was a gigantic help right there. First of all, the guy will jump on a plane in a heartbeat. That's worth a lot; he has credibility, he's signed big-time free agents in the past. He's not afraid of that kind of stuff. He has a whole lot going for him. He's hard to overlook."
Yet by all accounts, that's precisely what happened to Gillick after he resigned as Toronto's GM in 1994. His longtime assistant, Gord Ash, took over, and the arrangement was an awkward one from the start. Gillick, who had masterminded World Series titles in 1992-93, became "executive vice president" but wound up without a defined role.
"It didn't work out real well," Gillick said. "My feeling is Gordy was going to break away from my style and establish his own style, which is fine. I have no quarrel with that, but I always thought if you have a resource, you should use it.
"It got a little frustrating, but Gordy was trying to find his own territory, and establish his own identity."
Ash, now assistant GM in Milwaukee, admits that Gillick's role as Jays consultant never was clarified. Gillick's association with the Jays ended after the 1995 season, when he become GM of the Orioles.
"It was awkward," Ash said. "It was like a son taking over his father's company business. And it was complicated by the fact that it was the spring of replacement baseball. Even though Pat went to Arizona (to scout players), there was not a lot of purpose.
"As the season unfolded, he certainly came to our important meetings and participated in decision making, but it was awkward for both of us. Looking back on it 10 years later, Beeston (long-term Toronto executive Paul Beeston) and I can't believe it ever happened. There was really no structure to it. It was wide open. Maybe if it had been more structured, it would have worked a little better. He didn't really have any day-to-day responsibilities."
Bavasi said he talks to Gillick daily, usually through voice mail, to solicit advice on a variety of matters. Just this week, he said, he changed his direction on a matter because of the input of Gillick.
"He's too good an advantage not to use," Bavasi said.
Ash believes the current Seattle situation is more conducive to success because "I think Pat wanted to give me my space, and not seem like he was looking over my shoulder.
"This is a lot different. Bill came from someplace else. It's not like he grew up there. Obviously, Pat is a very creative, inventive idea guy, and could be invaluable."
Gillick likes Bavasi's inclusive style, which mirrors his own during a 24-year GM career. Far from heading home to Canada to retire, Gillick, 66, hopes to remain active and involved with the Mariners.
"You've got to stay on top of it," he said. "It's shifting sands. There are different situations, different territory every day. A lot of people would say I'm way back in Toronto; but on a daily basis, you have keep up to speed. If you fall behind, it's hard to do that."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.