During his 23 years as manager of the Dodgers, Walter Alston was always known for his stone countenance, face that never changed under pressure, one that certainly never shed tears.
Alston cried yesterday, shedding those quiet defiantly proud tears that strong men permit when one of their closest friends has died.
"Jim Gilliam was my great friend for nearly 30 years, and a great guy to everybody who knew him," said Alston, who managed Gilliam every day of his 16 pro seasons in the minors and majors, then had Gilliam for a coach for 10 more years.
"Jim was the kind of man who'd make you a good neighbor," said Alston. "Gilliam never made too many headlines. He was always under-rated and didn't get the credit he deserved. . . If he's getting some of it now. . . " Alston paused. He was never going to say that anything about Junior. Grilliam's death Sunday night at 49 was good.
"Well, Junior's got it coming."
Gilliam, a popular Dodger outfielder and then first-base coach since 1953, died at 10:55 p.m. (PST) Sunday of cardiac arrest at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, Calif.
Gilliam had been unconscious since Sept. 15 when he collapsed at his home of a massive brain hemorrhage.
"If death can be a blessing, then it probably was for Jim," said a Dodger official.
The Los Angeles Dodger didicated their National League pennant playoff victory to Gilliam on Saturday evening. The next night Gilliam died.
"I've known Jim since I was 6 years old when I was a bat boy," said Dodger star Steve Garvey. "We're not just dedicating the playoffs and World Series to him, we're doing something more important. We're playing it in his spirit. We're lost a wonderful man, but we're not going to lose his spirit."
Gilliam, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound native of Nashville, came to the Dodgers after playing with the Elite Giants of the Negro League. He replaced Jackie Robinson as Brooklyn second base man and was National League Rookie of the Year in 1953.
Throughout his 14 big league seasons, which included 1,956 games and seven World Series appearances, Gilliam was better known, and even more respect, among players than he was with fans.
Gilliam's 1,889 hits and .265 career average are not likely to win him a place in Cooperstown. Yet Gilliam was one of the most versatile and fundamentally sound players in an era when, in Alston's word, "baseball had the best talent in its history.
"Jim was the best No. 2 hitter I ever saw," said Alston. "When Maury Wills was stealing all those bases (104 in 1962), Gilliam was taking strikes, getting himself in the hole at the plate, giving himself up to move Wills from second to third.
"Junior was the perfect team player who'd sacrifice batting average to help the club."
Gilliam was the quintessential player's player, a student of nuance and subtle deception. His nickname was 'The Devil.'
"Well, he as a devil of man in the clutch," said Dodger Dave Lopes. "In any card game or game of strategy, he'd always find the hidden edge. That's why he was 'The Devil.'
"Awards mean nothing to me. I had a hundred trophies melt down in a fire at home once. It didn't bother me at all. But if they ever have a Junior, Gilliam Award and I won that, that would be something to keep."
"The first game of Jim's career in Montreal (AAA) I had to pull him off the bench and put him in the outfield, a position he never played," said Alston. "He dropped the first fly ball. I thought, 'This kid's gonna have trouble with pressure.'
"Well, the next ball hit over his head, he went back and got it like Joe DiMaggio. In 25 years, I never saw him drop another fly or pop."
Gilliam's off-the-field reputation was as a constant competitor in games of all sorts. "I don't think too many guys challenged him or Alston at pool," Lopes said with a smile.
"He was always one of the best on the club at pool," said Alston, remembering their 25-year battle on the green felt. Then Alston thought a moment, as though the truth could come out. "Actually," said Alston, "Gilliam was always the best."
Gilliam and Alston also were frequent bridge partners. "A lot of these ballplayer buy that guy Goren's (bridge) books," said Alston wryly. "Well, Jim never read a book on bridge, had his own way. But when the cards were laying down, he always knew what to do. He never made a mistake.
Gilliam's career was no more secure than any other short-on-power switch hitter who lived by his wits.
"I remember him every spring sitting in the corner of that dugout, cracking that bubble gum, while the rookies took shots are stealing his position," Garvey recalled. "But on opening day, he was always in the lineup."
Alston was the man who had to watch that process. "Jim'd never moan or groan," he said. "He knew how it had to be. One year we even made him a coach, then had to call him back to play third in midseason. He helped us win another pennant.
"Not many guys would have had the patience to sit and wait for the club to wise up and say, 'We better get old Jim back.'"
Gilliam was unsuccessful in one long wait-to become a big-league manager. He managed in the winter league in 1973, but no major league offer ever came. That color line broke a generation late for Gilliam.
"Jim never said much about it," said Alston. "I think probably he might have wanted to. He was happy as a coach. . . well, I just can't answer that. No one knows for sure how he felt."
'The devil,' however, will be best remembered for his sharp, all-seeing analytical eyes on the baseball diamond.
"He was the only hitter I ever saw who could see the runner on first out of the corner of his eye when he batted righty," said Alston. If the runner missed the sign on a hit and run, Gilliam wouldn't even swing. If the runner got a bad jump, he'd protect him with a foul ball.
"It took me a while to believe that he wasn't missing signs, then giving me a false explanation of why he wasn't swinging on hit and runs or taking on steals. But he finally convinced me. That's the only time in 25 years we almost had cross words," said Alston. "But I was wrong."
Alston only had one final quarrel with his old friend. "He had high blood pressure and he had some pills that got him better," said Alston. "I had lunch with him the day he had the blood clot. He said he'd stopped taking the pills because he didn't need them anymore.