Red Sox Nation lost one of its most distinguished members on April 1, as former General Manager and New England native Lou Gorman passed away at the age of 82 of congestive heart failure.
The personable Gorman assumed control of the Red Sox at a difficult time in the history of the franchise and quickly made great strides towards rebuilding a club that was stagnant on many fronts.
“Lou Gorman was a legendary figure in the game of baseball,” Red Sox owner John W. Henry said in a statement released by the team on April 1. “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 optimist’s perspective.”
The team was coming off its first losing season in 17 years and still dealing with the fallout from a protracted ownership dispute, which greased the way for the departure of many of the team’s great stars of the 1970s.
In early 1984, the legal battle for control of the team ended when Buddy LeRoux lost a court decision against Jean Yawkey and Haywood Sullivan, effectively stripping him of all control over the team. Gorman, who had been hired as Vice President of Baseball Operations in January, was made the full-time GM in June of 1984.
The constant court battles and revolving door of stars had done much to alienate Sox fans, and Gorman made it his first priority to repair the wounded relationship between the team and the region. Affable and friendly with the media, he made himself accessible to both fans and the press. It was early during his tenure in Boston that the team officially retired the numbers of Ted Williams and Joe Cronin.
These things helped to repair the image of the franchise.
“Lou Gorman was a giant in our industry,” said Red Sox executive vice president/general manager Theo Epstein. “During half a century in the game, Lou impacted and helped so many people in countless ways. We’ll dearly miss this good, humble man who leaves an unmistakable legacy on the Red Sox and Major League Baseball.”
Gorman also reshaped the team on the field, and he enjoyed quick success in the form of an American League pennant in the heartbreaking 1986 season, when one out was all that separated the Sox from their first World Series Championship since 1918. AL East crowns in 1988 and 1990 made Gorman the first executive in franchise history to lead the team to three postseason appearances (there was no formal GM when Speaker, Ruth and Wood won four titles in seven seasons from 1912 to 1918).
Despite being the man responsible for the trade of then prospect Jeff Bagwell for mediocre reliever Larry Andersen in 1990, Gorman’s overall record on the trading block was fairly good.
He basically burgled all time saves leader Lee Smith away from the Cubs in 1987 and got key 1986 cogs Spike Owen and Dave Henderson for almost nothing.
Gorman was a “win now” guy.
That was his rationale for the Bagwell-Andersen swap, and although 449 home runs later it looked pretty bad, the strategy worked out well two years prior, as his Curt Schilling for Brady Andersen and Mike Boddicker barter paved the way for the Sox AL East crown that season.
Gorman’s ultimate undoing as Sox GM came after 1990, when in an apparent all out push for a World Series win before Yawkey died, the team signed a MASH unit’s worth of aging free agents between 1988 and 1993. Names like Jack Clark, Danny Darwin, Frank Viola and Matt Young donned Red Sox jerseys, but the title proved elusive and Yawkey passed away in 1992.
The effects of the free agent strategy depleted the team’s farm system, while inflating payroll and making the team older and less athletic. The smell of Ben-Gay wafted throughout Kenmore Square on many occasions in the early '90s.
In 1993, Sox ownership moved Gorman upstairs and installed Dan Duquette as GM. Gorman stayed with the organization and was inducted in the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.
Born in Providence Rhode Island in 1929, Gorman attended Stonehill College and earned a master’s degree in education at Bridgewater State University.
In addition to his family, Gorman leaves behind an entire sport full of dear friends and admirers.
He will be missed indeed.
"Lou Gorman was first and foremost a gentleman: kind, warm, decent, and positive. He treated everyone with dignity and saw each person he encountered as a potential friend," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said. "I will deeply miss sitting and watching Red Sox home games with Lou, learning from his wisdom and character. They just don't make them like Lou Gorman. That is not a cliché; it is a historical fact.”