BOSTON—Former Boston Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman, the architect of the team that came within one strike of winning the 1986 World Series, died early Friday morning of congestive heart failure. He was 82.
"All he wanted to do was make it to Opening Day, and he made it," said his nephew, Tom Dougherty, who answered the phone at Gorman's Weston home. "He lived a great life. And he was truly one of the nicest men you ever wanted to meet."
Gorman died peacefully at 1:50 a.m. after an illness of almost a year, surrounded by his family at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dougherty said.
"Lou Gorman was a giant in our industry," current general manager Theo Epstein said shortly before the Red Sox were scheduled to open their season against the Texas Rangers. "We'll dearly miss this good, humble man who leaves an unmistakable legacy on the Red Sox and major league baseball."
James "Lou" Gorman was the Red Sox general manager from 1984-93, building the 1986 AL championship team led by Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans that was one strike away from winning the World Series. It wasn't until 2004 that the Red Sox finally won it all and ended what had become an 86-year title drought.
"Lou Gorman was a legendary figure in the game of baseball," Red Sox owner John W. Henry said. "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."
Commissioner Bud Selig praised Gorman, who spent eight years in the U.S. military, as "A Navy man who became a baseball man."
"Lou was a perpetual optimist, a wonderful storyteller, and a contributor to many outstanding baseball causes," Selig said. "On behalf of major league baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Lou's family and his many friends and admirers throughout the game of baseball."
The Red Sox were still formulating plans for a tribute, a spokeswoman said.
A native of Rhode Island, Gorman helped launch the expansion Seattle Mariners in 1976 and also worked for the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. But his greatest success was with the 1986 Red Sox, who came back to beat the California Angels in the AL championship series in stunning fashion, then took a 3-2 lead over the Mets in the Series.
Boston led 5-3 with two outs in the 10th inning, when Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley coughed up the lead, then Mookie Wilson dribbled a slow roller toward Bill Buckner. The ball went through his legs for a Mets victory, and New York went on to win Game 7 as well.
The title of his first book reflected how close he had come: "One Pitch From Glory: A Decade of Running the Red Sox."
The excruciatingly close miss further embittered the long-suffering Boston fans, but never Gorman. When contract negotiations with Clemens broke down in 1987, Gorman famously dismissed the doomsayers with the quip, "The sun will rise. The sun will set. And I will have lunch."
Boston fans never let Gorman live down the trade of Jeff Bagwell to Houston for long reliever Larry Andersen for the 1990 stretch run. Although Andersen helped the Red Sox win the division, he took the loss in Game 1 of the playoffs against Oakland; he had two scoreless appearances after that, but he was gone after the season.
Meanwhile, Bagwell developed, and went from a Double-A third baseman trapped behind Boggs, to a Hall of Fame-caliber first baseman who hit 449 homers -- all for the Astros -- in a 15-year career.
But Gorman never shied away from the criticism or seemed to let it bother him.
He remained with the team as an adviser, helping to coordinate the Red Sox Hall of Fame, of which he is a member. Until he became ill, he was usually seen around the ballpark before games, always smiling, sharing baseball stories with reporters or anyone else in the vicinity.
"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 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 cliche; it is a historical fact."