Former Red Sox General Manager Shares His Love of the Game
Perry Chlan writer
Brian Smith photographer
Longtime Weston resident Lou Gorman has had a 44-year love affair with the business of professional baseball and has built one of the most prized records of any front office executive in the big leagues.
Several years ago, Lou was the Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox, serving as general manager for 10 years previous to Dan Duquette. Among avid Red Sox fans he may best be known as the GM of the club that came one pitch away from winning the World Series in 1986. While his team may be in the history books for losing a championship game in the tenth inning that was all but a sure win, Lou’s contributions to major league baseball, the Red Sox organization, and the New England community are truly impressive. In fact, they earned Lou a unique spot in the Hall of Fame at Fenway Park in 2002.
At 78-years-old, he today continues daily involvement with the Beantown nine, and recently chronicled his career in a second book, titled High and Inside: A Life in Baseball, expected to be in bookstores now. Charming and charismatic, Lou has a treasure chest of stories spanning the past five decades. He captured many of his best in some 4,000 pages of handwritten notes on legal pads over a four-year period. Those stories filled his first sold out book — One Pitch from Glory: A Decade of Running the Red Sox, published in 2005 — and provided sizzle for his second rendition published by McFarland & Company.
In a May meeting at Fenway Park, Lou reflected on the most cherished contents of High and Inside, capturing his life in baseball and his leadership roles with the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariner’s, and the New York Mets, before returning to his native New England as GM of the Red Sox in 1984.
While he never took the field as a major league player, Lou’s contributions to winning teams are unparalleled. Measured in banners and rings, he contributed to the development of three World Championship teams and, while with the Red Sox, won Eastern Division titles in 1986, 1988, and 1990. Ironically, while with the Mets Lou signed most of the star-studded line up which a couple of years later came to beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. It seems easier now for Lou to put that collapse behind him, and joke about it, because today he proudly wears the conspicuously bulky championship ring marking the Red Sox World Championship triumph in 2004.
At the core of Lou, who has the energy of someone half his age, is a man who has attained success by leveraging his remarkable people management and relationship skills. He built a career largely based on the extraordinary ability to judge the talents of young baseball players in the minor leagues and bring them into the majors. While analytical measures drive much of today’s rating systems, Lou discovered talent the old-fashioned way, by attending games, about 7,700 in all, for a firsthand view of players.
“I’m a man of average intelligence, but I’m a people person,” Lou says in his classic understated style, which doesn’t quite seem to match the inflated egos and salaries prevalent in today’s world of baseball. “I know how to relate to people, to inspire them and to motivate them. My passion is working with the players, signing them and developing them.”
In a long list of legendary players he has been involved with, Lou beams when he speaks about his work with pitcher Jim Palmer of the Orioles and George Brett of the Royals, whose tremendous careers were ultimately rewarded with inductions into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Lou began developing his own baseball management skills in the early 1960s after serving eight years on active duty with the United States Navy in the Korean War and achieving the rank of Captain.
He started his baseball career in 1962 with a minor league team in Florida. “My wife put a résumé together for me and I attended my first baseball convention in Tampa in 1961. I always wanted to be in baseball,” he says. “It was getting towards the end of the convention and I thought I had struck out in getting into the business. Then, rather unexpectedly at the Hillsborough Hotel, I met an Ohio businessman who had just bought a minor league team in Lakeland. We had dinner and we connected. He hired me to run an ailing two-year-old San Francisco Giants affiliate that demanded 12 to 14 hours of my time everyday. I ran all facets of the club, even sold game tickets, signage at the ballpark, and advertising in the program. I picked up the business from an experienced baseball ‘field rep’ I had met at the convention who subsequently spent a week with me as I started in Lakeland.”
Lou moved up the minor league system rapidly as a result of his early successes. From Lakeland, he took a job in North Carolina running the Kinston Pirates (now the Indians affiliated with Cleveland). His pattern of packing the stadium with fans game after game earned him the “Minor League Executive of The Year” award. This designation shined a spotlight on Lou and he gained the attention of the management of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles picked Lou out of the tobacco fields of North Carolina when club president Lee MacPhail, a former Navy officer, appointed Lou to his first position in the major leagues. With initial responsibilities for the club’s minor league teams and scouting operations, Lou oversaw and worked with men like Earl Weaver, Darrell Johnson, and George Bamberger, who all went on to achieve greatness in baseball.
While in Baltimore, Lou brought in key players to the Orioles and was part of a trio who signed Frank Robinson, an outfielder who helped lead the Orioles and Lou to their first World Championship in 1966. As further proof of Lou’s skill in picking talent, Robinson was also named the American League’s Most Valuable Player that year.
By this point, Lou was down the path to developing a reputation as a baseball man who could spot talent and build teams. This made him a natural fit to lead the start-up of the Kansas City Royals, which was founded as an expansion team and played its first season in 1969. Lou developed a strong farm system for the Royals, which developed future stars including infielder George Brett. In three short years, the Royals had notched their first winning season. In Lou’s 10 years in Kansas City, the ball club won three American League Western Division titles.
In Lou’s next step, he encountered a touch of Hollywood when he was hired by Danny Kaye to launch the actor’s new club in Seattle in 1977. The Mariners posted an early history of losing seasons and after a five-year stint in the Pacific Northwest, Lou returned to the East to join the New York Mets.
In 1980, Doubleday publishing bought the Mets for $21 million and the new ownership hired a general manager from the Baltimore Orioles. Lou knew Frank Cashen from his days in the Orioles system and was excited by the opportunity to work alongside the new GM. Their goals would be to rebuild the franchise that won its first World Series title in 1969 as the “Amazin’ Mets,” then turned in largely lackluster performances in the 1970s.
During the rebuilding years, Lou helped sign several standouts— including Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden—which propelled the Mets and eventually positioned them to beat Lou’s Red Sox team in seven games in 1986 for the club’s second World Championship title.
When Lou’s career came full circle and he returned to Boston in 1984 as GM, the team already had Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, and others which served as a nucleus for Lou to build on. He added stars like Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to field front-running teams under his tutelage.
During his Red Sox tenure, the team also earned post-season play in 1988 and 1990, but never got any closer to a World Championship than they did in Lou’s first year at the helm.
Today, Lou is like an ambassador-in-chief for the club, says Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry. According to Henry, “Lou remains an integral part of the Red Sox family. He is a great representative of the Red Sox internally and externally. I greatly value his opinions and perspectives.”
“I’ll do anything they want me to do,” Lou says about the Red Sox organization. “I give a lot of speeches and host special groups to the Legends Suite and the EMC Club at Fenway.”
Wellesley resident and Red Sox Chief Operating Officer Mike Dee is enthusiastic when he says, “Lou personifies all that is great about the game of baseball. His passion and love of the game are always worn on his sleeve. What sets him apart, though, is his love of the fans. He will talk baseball morning, noon and night with anyone.”
“He is genuine,” Dee continues. “He’s the type of guy who really cares when he asks you how you are doing.”
Lou also is generous with his time closer to home, where he recently delivered the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Wellesley Chamber of Commerce. He helped to raise funds for the Weston Public Library, and was asked to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2007 at Stonehill College, his alma mater.
In his address, he challenged the more than 500 graduates to set personal and career goals for themselves, and underscored his belief that having a strong passion and a positive attitude are essential to achieving success. “A positive attitude is not just a destination,” he said. “It should be a way of life.” He concluded by telling the graduates to believe in themselves and to have “perseverance, dedication, and faith.”
It’s clear to those who know him that this career baseball man lives by his own advice.