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In tough business, he managed to be sweet

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 2, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Lou Gorman loved Opening Day, as a general manager and in retirement. So it came as no surprise that while on his death bed, he turned to his nephew, Tom Dougherty, and said he needed to hold on until Opening Day.

“He went on his own terms,’’ said Dougherty. “He was at the hospital and he had fought and fought for so long and been through much with his health recently. He said, ‘I’m done.’ He said he just wanted to make it to Opening Day and he did. There were a lot of Red Sox people who came by to see him [Thursday] and he told them, ‘I’ll see you in heaven.’ Not many people get to go on their own terms.’’

For more than a year, Gorman, who died yesterday at 1:50 a.m. of congestive heart failure at Massachusetts General Hospital, was in and out of hospitals because of back surgeries, leg infections, and carotid artery blockage. He spent lengthy periods at rehab facilities and it frustrated him that he wasn’t able to lose the walker and make it to Fenway Park more often. He owned a home in Sarasota, Fla., and he so wanted to be able to come to Fort Myers this spring to watch his beloved Red Sox.

In addition to being a terrific baseball man, Gorman was a terrific person. He had a kind word for everyone. When he saw you, he made you feel important.

Gorman and his wife, Mary Lou, didn’t have children; they devoted a lot of their time and efforts to charitable causes. Gorman was always active at his alma mater, Stonehill College, where a baseball field bears his name, and at Franklin Pierce, where he taught.

He was a Navy man who was a terrific athlete at La Salle Academy in Providence. He was a hard-hitting first baseman, but never made it in pro ball. Gorman forged a nice career, first with the Orioles, then the Royals, then as GM of the expansion Mariners. He was Mets GM Frank Cashen’s righthand man, and moved on to the Red Sox in 1984.

Gorman came along at the right time. Haywood Sullivan, who had been the GM, needed someone to take the heat for ownership. Gorman was more than willing to do that to be part of the team he loved growing up in Rhode Island.

He brought a friendly manner to the franchise, which at the time needed good PR. He emphasized player development and scouting, and, over time, a multitude of talented players came through the farm system, such as Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell, Mo Vaughn, Jody Reed, Todd Benzinger, Tim Naehring, Scott Cooper, Jeff Bagwell, and Steve Lyons. Two years into Gorman’s term as GM, the Sox had a tremendous team he bolstered by acquiring Don Baylor, Tom Seaver, Spike Owen, and Dave Henderson.

The 1986 team won the American League East and rallied from 3-1 down to beat the Angels in the AL Championship Series before falling short of the franchise’s first World Series title in 68 years in agonizing fashion to the Mets.

The Sox also won divisional titles in 1988 and ’90, but couldn’t get past the A’s in the ALCS. Gorman traded Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker to help the 1988 squad, and dealt Bagwell for Astros reliever Larry Andersen in 1990, a move for which he received plenty of criticism.

Gorman also acquired players such as Ivan Calderon, Andre Dawson, Tony Pena, Jack Clark, Tom Brunansky, Bill Buckner, Frank Viola, Mike Easler, Billy Hatcher, Nick Esasky, Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, and Jeff Russell.

So many people got their start with Gorman, including Braves president John Schuerholz, who was a schoolteacher when Gorman discovered him. Current major league managers Ron Washington, Ron Gardenhire, Eric Wedge, Bruce Bochy, and Clint Hurdle managed or played in one of Gorman’s farm systems. Gorman also drafted Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan.

He amused the media with some of the things he said. He was known for, “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’ll have lunch,’’ with regard to not sweating contract negotiations with Roger Clemens. He uttered, “What would we do with Willie McGee?’’ when the star outfielder was available in a trade. Sometimes Gorman would confuse a name — Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner one day became Bailey Howell — but we knew what he meant.

There were tough times, when Gorman wasn’t able to spend to acquire prime free agents, but he always did what he could. In 1988, Gorman had the tough task of having to fire John McNamara. He had Joe Torre all lined up, until interim manager Joe Morgan had that incredible winning streak, and Gorman had no choice but to retain him.

Gorman was a sweet, generous man. When word of his death came down, there were more than a few moist eyes from those who had enjoyed his company for so long.

I will miss the phone calls, the conversations about the team he so loved, and the patience and kindness he showed even in the days when ours was an adversarial reporter/GM relationship. He would greet me, “Nicholas, Nicholas,’’ always repeating my full name twice.

Godspeed and rest in peace, Sweet Lou.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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