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Originally published Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 5:41 PM

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Larry Stone

Gorman was positive force in the early days for Mariners

Lou Gorman, who died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 82, was the original architect of Mariners baseball.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

His nickname was "Good Good," because whenever you asked Lou Gorman how he was doing, or whenever you told Lou how you were doing, the response was always the same: "Good, good, good."

But it wasn't perfunctory, or dismissive. "It was said very sincerely," said Randy Adamack, one of the few current Mariners employees who dates back to the Seattle reign of Gorman. "That was kind of his spirit — Lou was a positive guy who cared about people."

Gorman, who died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 82, was the original architect of Mariners baseball, their director of baseball operations — a de facto general manager — in the inaugural season of 1977.

And while it's easy to dismiss Gorman's contribution by pointing to the expansion team's early struggles — they lost 98, 104, 95 and 103 games under his watch — that's missing the point entirely.

Having cut his teeth in the Baltimore and Kansas City organizations back when those teams were paragons of the industry, Gorman knew talent. He seized Ruppert Jones, whom he had watched in the Royals organization, with the first pick of the expansion draft and watched Jones develop into the M's first folk hero. His first draft pick was Dave Henderson, who nearly made Gorman a lifetime New England hero in a future incarnation as Boston's GM.

He flipped Dave Pagan for Rick Honeycutt, and Dave Collins for Shane Rawley, unearthed Byron McLaughlin, coaxed the final bit of life from Willie Horton. Those names have faded now, but they resonated with the first generation of Mariners fans.

"Lou made good moves all the way along," said J. Michael Kenyon, who covered the fledgling Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The ownership just didn't have enough patience, and it came down to the fact they didn't have enough money to start with.

"If they were properly financed like (fellow 1977 expansion team) Toronto, they would have had more patience, and in just a couple of years the Mariners would have moved into a position of contention. Even though Lou was occasionally wrong in his baseball judgments, in balance he did an excellent job."

Beyond that, though, Gorman was a larger-than-life personality, a hale fellow well met who was beloved throughout the game for decades.

"Lou was wonderfully positive and enthusiastic, and boy, in those days we needed it," said Ken Wilson, hired along with Dave Niehaus during Gorman's regime to be the team's original announcers.

"He was always concerned about your family, just a first-class individual," added former Mariners executive Lee Pelekoudas, who joined the club as traveling secretary in 1980. "Whenever I saw him traveling, he'd always remember me and have a nice thing to say."

It was a much closer-knit organization in those days simply by virtue of numbers. There were maybe 30 front-office employees in the late 1970s, compared to nearly 200 now. Adamack, hired in 1978 to be the public-relations director, remembers getting invited to the Gorman house in Bellevue for Thanksgiving dinner along with a few other "orphans."

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"If you went to see someone in the office in those days, you saw everyone," Wilson recalled. "And any time you walked in, you'd have a little time alone with Lou Gorman. Lou was the kind of guy that filled a room."

In 1980, Gorman moved onto to the Mets, and then the Red Sox, where he got them within one out of their elusive World Series title in '86 before Bill Buckner happened. The Mets — led by many players Gorman helped acquire — won the title instead.

"He was one of the most congenial and knowledgeable baseball guys I ever met," said former Mariners executive Dan O'Brien, 82, from his Texas home. "I think he started the ball rolling up there, and actually put a good foundation in place."

And Lou Gorman — good ol' Good Good — did it with panache.

"So many modern-day executives don't have the character and eccentricity the old guys did," Kenyon said. "Lou had it in spades."

When he heard the news of Gorman's death, Kenyon — who maintained a warm relationship with Gorman until the end — sent a note to a mutual friend.

"I said, 'Bad bad. That's the word today.' "

Crazy opener

Baseball is a crazy game. Just look at the season opener Thursday between the Tigers and Yankees. First, you had Detroit's Jhonny Peralta, who didn't have a run batted in in spring training, driving in a run in his first plate appearance of the regular season.

Then you had New York's Mark Teixeira, 1 for 17 lifetime off Justin Verlander, belting a three-run homer off him in the third.

Then you had Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who made only three errors all of last season, making a key error in the fifth to lead to the game-tying run.

Finally, you had Tigers lefty Phil Coke, who didn't give up his first homer of the year last season until late May, and who didn't give up his second homer until late September — you guessed it — Coke gave up a homer Thursday to the first batter he faced, the game-decider by Curtis Granderson.

Notes

• Giants rookie Brandon Belt became emotional when he learned from manager Bruce Bochy he had made the team and would start at first base.

While Belt was surrounded by reporters Wednesday, Aubrey Huff called from across the room, "Hey, Belt, you crying?"

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Belt replied, "A little bit."

Said Huff, displaced from first base by the decision: "Why you crying? I'm the one who's gotta play right field every day."

• A couple of Dave Niehaus notes. First, the Mariners are encouraging fans to wear white shoes to the home opener Friday to honor Dave, who favored such footwear.

And secondly, the Dave Niehaus CD in the "Baseball Voices" collection — an excellent compilation of his greatest calls and moments — is now available for the first time on iTunes and Amazon.com. Just go to iTunes or Amazon and type "Dave Niehaus" in the search box to access the digital CD.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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