ATLANTA -- Five days after he became the Phillies’ interim team president, Pat Gillick joined the team in Atlanta on Tuesday.
The Hall of Fame baseball executive is pinch-hitting for longtime club president David Montgomery, who is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Gillick, 77, was the Phillies’ general manager from the fall of 2005 to the fall of 2008. He stepped down after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series and was succeeded by his assistant, Ruben Amaro Jr. Gillick has remained with the club as a front-office adviser.
Gillick takes over his interim leadership role with the Phillies sitting in last place in the NL East and on track to miss the postseason for a third straight season.
Gillick met with reporters for 15 minutes before Tuesday night’s game.
• There has been “no thought whatsoever” to replacing Amaro or manager Ryne Sandberg.
• Gillick said he has faith in Amaro, who was part of the team’s championship run from 2007 to 2011 and “didn’t get dumb overnight.”
• Gillick said the team “will get better, but it’s going to take a little while.”
• Gillick said he would work with Amaro, but added he’d have final say on baseball matters if it came to that.
Here is the complete interview in Q & A format:
Q. Why are you here?
A. Usually most of the work I do is between Feburary 1 and the end of June, through the draft. Then I don’t do a lot of work in July and August and then get back into it in September, October. I see a lot more major-league games in September then go to the Fall League, the Instructional League, things of that nature. I just want to kind of get up to speed a little bit, just put my eyes on the group here for a couple weeks. I’ll be here, go to Washington and Philly and then the West Coast. I just want to get a firsthand look since I’m sitting in for David now.
Q. Who asked you to do this?
A. The ownership asked me to do this while David is rehabbing and recovering from his operation. It took a little longer than they anticipated and they wanted him to relax and really kick back and get this recovery completely through. So they asked me if I would step in for whatever period of time.
I’ve been with them now for over eight years. David is not only my boss, but a great guy to work for, a great person, somebody I admire. So consequently any way I can be of any help to the Phillies, there is no hesitancy on my part whatsoever.
Q. Did you talk to David before you assumed control?
A. I didn’t. I talked just directly to ownership.
Q. Will you live in Philadelphia?
A. No. I’m going to stay in Seattle, but whatever period of time, hopefully by the end of the season or something, David is going to be back in his position in the office. But if it takes longer than that, I’m certainly going to spend time in Philly.
Q. When were you asked to become interim president?
A. They approached me last week. Because, you know, it’s just going to take a little longer than they anticipated with David’s recovery. They wanted somebody to sit in -- it’s hard to sit in for him, he’s everything about baseball in Philly, he’s everything about our family. As I said, I’m just here to keep a steady hand on the rudder.
Q. What’s your focus, baseball operations?
A. Yeah. Right now, Michael Stiles is handling the business side and I along with Ruben and (assistant GM) Scott Proefrock are on the baseball ops side along with our staff in Philadelphia.
Q. Do you have full power over baseball operations?
A. Let me put it this way, Ruben and I mutually agree on most decisions that we make. Ruben is very inclusive on any decisions that we make for the ballclub. But right now if there’s something I might have a different opinion, I’ll certainly voice that opinion and we’ll talk it through and try to make what we think is the correct decision.
Q. But you have final say?
A. I would say if it comes down to the end, I have part of the final say. At this moment, I think ownership has a part of the say, too.
Q. Are you a caretaker or someone who can come here and affect change?
A. You know, a little bit of both. As I’ve said over and over, we want David back as soon as possible. So to that point, I’m an interim caretaker. But at the same time, if there are decisions that have to be made from a baseball standpoint, we’re going to make those decisions.
Q. What’s your impression on the state of the team?
A. From our standpoint, the wins don’t calculate with the payroll, so consequently we’d all like a few more wins on the board. So, payroll being what it is (over $175 million), we have challenges that we have to work through.
Q. Ruben said emphatically in New York that he was the GM and Ryne Sandberg is the manager and that wasn’t changing. Can you say declaratively that Ruben will be the GM and Ryne will be the manager?
A. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q. Why is that? Fans are very frustrated with the team and the general manager.
A. Well, let me say this, one of the more difficult things to do in professional sports, and not only baseball but all sports, is to be patient. It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult for the fans to be patient, it’s difficult for the media to be patient, it’s difficult for ownership to be patient. But sometimes when you get challenges -- and the challenges are we haven’t played well in the last two or three years -- these are basically the same people that made the decisions when we won five division championships from 2007 through 2011. These are the same people making the decisions.
Ryne wasn’t here, but Ruben was here. All of a sudden, he didn’t get dumb overnight. It’s just right now, we’re in a situation where we know where we’re headed and it’s going to take some time to get us where we want to go.
Q. Do you view this as a rebuilding process?
A. No. I know it’s hard saying that because we’re at the bottom of the league, the division, but I don’t know that there are too many dominating teams in baseball right now. So consequently, yeah, we have to get younger, we have to get younger players into the lineup. But at the same time, a tweak here or a tweak there might make you a little more competitive.
As I said, I don’t think there’s really -- I thought Detroit was going to be a dominating team, Washington’s got a good club, but you look around baseball and there’s a lot of teams that are just the same. I think you can do both. You can make some changes in your ballclub and bring guys along and at the same time be more competitive than we are.
Q. So Amaro and Sandberg are absolutely in place for next season?
A. They’re under contract. Ruben is under contract through ‘15 and Ryne’s under contract (through 2016). So right now there’s no thought whatsoever of replacing either one.
Q. In your opinion, why did things get so bad so quickly with the club?
A. I don’t know. Sometimes you think you’ve got another shot at it. The old story, you’re a year late rather than a year early, something of that nature. But you know we won 102 games in 2011, that was only three years ago. So there are some injury factors, Ryan (Howard) with the Achilles, Chase (Utley) being out. This season, and it’s not an excuse because everybody has injuries, but we didn’t have Cole (Hamels) at the beginning and Cliff (Lee) has been down. So there are levels of injuries. When you lose some players you can semi-replace them, when you lose others, like your No. 1, No. 2 starters, those are people that really take a whack out of your staff.
I think if we had been healthy, if our pitching staff had been healthy, I’m not saying we’d have competed, but we’d have been closer to .500.
Q. The farm is system is very thin …
A. We have challenges and that’s one of the challenges. We’re going to have to be a little creative, we’re going to have to be a little imaginative, we’re going to have to take a chance here and there. We’re going to have to do things that are going to get us better and I have every confidence that Ruben’s that kind of guy. He’s got imagination and creativity. I think we’ll get better, but I’m not saying we’ll get better completely overnight. I think it’s going to take a little while.
Q. Do you and Ruben have a shared philosophy?
A. I’m kind of more like a sounding board, someone to bounce an idea off, things of that nature, or maybe I can come up with an idea. As I said, for the most part, we’re basically on the same page.
Ruben and I talk at least two or three times a week. We have a conference call (with the baseball operations staff) for an hour and a half each week and I probably talk to Ruben a couple more times during the week. But mostly during the season he relies on his scouts and he’s got some good guys out there. They’re very competent people.
Q. Do you expect to be in charge into the offseason?
A. I have no idea. It all depends on how fast David makes a recovery and hopefully he’ll make it as quick as possible. Whatever period of time it takes, unless ownership sees differently, I’m going to be sitting here.
Q. Do you think the team needs changes in scouting and player development?
A. I’ve heard that notion come around, but, you know, a lot of the players we have on the field, they’re the right -- let me put it this way: If you said at one point, would you like to have Ryan Howard and Jimmy (Rollins) and (Carlos) Ruiz and Utley on the field, guys would have said, ‘Yeah, I want them on the field.’ That’s the right decision. Maybe we pushed them a little too far, but as far as identifying the players to be on the field, I think our people …
Those are guys that all came through the Phillies system. Nobody would say you’re stupid to have those four or five guys or Cole Hamels on the field. We made the right decisions. It’s just that at this point, we’re kind of thin up top (in the minors) and some of the changes we have to make, we’re going to have to make them in more of a creative manner than maybe drawing on the farm system.