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Lou Gorman; general manager built contending Red Sox teams

A native of South Providence, Lou Gorman also worked for the Orioles, Royals, Mariners, and Mets during his long career. A native of South Providence, Lou Gorman also worked for the Orioles, Royals, Mariners, and Mets during his long career. (Bill Brett/Globe Staff/File 1992)
By Amalie Benjamin and Chad Finn
Globe Staff / April 2, 2011

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Lou Gorman, the architect of three playoff teams in his 10-year tenure as the Boston Red Sox general manager, died of congestive heart failure early yesterday in Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 82.

Mr. Gorman, who was instrumental in the beginnings of two expansion teams, took over as the Sox GM in 1984, continuing in that capacity until 1993. He added key pieces to the 1986 team that came within one strike of winning Boston’s first championship since 1918.

“Lou Gorman was a legendary figure in the game of baseball,’’ John W. Henry, the Red Sox’ principal owner, said yesterday in a prepared statement. “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.’’

That spirit could be seen at the ballpark in recent years, as Mr. Gorman, of Weston, continued to make the rounds. He had served as executive consultant to the Sox, as well as coordinator of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. He continued as a senior adviser to the club after his time as general manager, his love of baseball making an impact on those who came into contact with him.

“It’s great that he made it to Opening Day,’’ said Dick Bresciani, the Red Sox public relations director under Mr. Gorman and now the team’s vice president/publications. “He wanted to make it to Opening Day of the season and Opening Day of Fenway. He didn’t die until 10 minutes of 2 [Friday] morning, so he made it to Opening Day, really.’’

Bresciani saw Mr. Gorman the day before he died, which was the day before the Red Sox opened their 2011 season. Although his voice was muffled by the oxygen tank he required, Mr. Gorman made sure to ask about Bresciani’s wife.

“That really shows the kind of person [he was], always thinking of somebody else, no matter what his own situation was,’’ Bresciani said.

In a baseball career that spanned more than four decades, beginning with the Orioles, then with the Royals, Mariners (as their first general manager), and Mets, Mr. Gorman help build World Series winners. He oversaw player development for Baltimore when it won the title in 1966, and worked as the player personnel director with the Mets from 1980 to 1983, helping to build the team that would take down his own Sox in that 1986 World Series.

As much as his contributions to baseball were remembered yesterday, so too was a personality that endeared him to many. Bresciani recalled Mr. Gorman’s wife, Mary Lou, talking about Mr. Gorman’s desire to be around people as much as possible.

“He loved to go to stores, go in and wander up and down the aisles,’’ Bresciani said. “He would talk to everybody. She said he knows all the sales people and, in those days, if he saw somebody who looked a little glum or wasn’t attentive to customers, he’d give them a little pep talk. ‘Hey, this is important for your future. You’ve got to smile and be nice and helpful.’ ’’

It made his wife nervous at times. But Mr. Gorman loved to talk to people to get to know them. He did the same in the Red Sox offices and the press box. Added Bresciani, “You just think about him being a real friend to so many people, no matter who they were in the organization, no matter where they were.’’

“Lou Gorman was first and foremost a gentleman: kind, warm, decent, and positive,’’ said Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president. “He treated everyone with dignity and saw each person he encountered as a potential friend. 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.’’

That sentiment was echoed around baseball yesterday, as those in the game reacted to the death of Mr. Gorman.

“I had a wonderful friendship with Lou Gorman, a great gentleman, for decades,’’ Bud Selig, Major League Baseball’s commissioner, said in a statement. “Lou was a perpetual optimist, a wonderful storyteller, and a contributor to many outstanding causes, such as the Red Sox Hall of Fame and the Baseball Assistance Team. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Lou’s family and his many friends and admirers.’’

Mr. Gorman might be best remembered for a trade. With his organization deep at third base, Mr. Gorman shipped minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell to Houston for middle reliever Larry Andersen, a move that was supposed to get the Sox to the 1990 World Series. Although the Sox won the American League East for the second time in three years, Boston was swept by Oakland in the American League Championship Series. Bagwell went on to hit 449 home runs in 15 years with the Astros.

“I get criticized for the Bagwell trade and probably always will be,’’ Mr. Gorman told the Globe in 2005. “He turned out to be a great player. To me it was a question about trying to win now. We had a chance to win the division, play Oakland, and go back to the World Series.’’

Although that did not happen, Mr. Gorman, a native of South Providence, R.I., who attended Stonehill College, helped draft and develop some of the players who would help the Red Sox for years, including Mo Vaughn, Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell, and John Valentin.

“Lou Gorman was a giant in our industry,’’ current Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “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.’’

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gorman leaves a sister, Virginia L. Moran of Narragansett, R.I., and seven nieces and nephews. A funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Julia Church in Weston.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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