They put Jim Gilliam's uniform in the casket with him. For 26 years with the Dodgers, he wore 19. He wasn't a great baseball player. So every spring they brought up kids to take his job. Only age put him on the bench. They made him a coach a decade or so ago. and only death, of a cerebral hemorrhage, took him out of No. 19.
"Nobody else will ever wear it for the Dodgers." said Don Newcombe, an old teammate of Gilliam, To a thousand people inside Trinity Baptist Church in west Los Angeles, Newcombe said. "The No. 19 uniforms is in the casket. It is retired, but hope and pray his son, Darryl, will wear it someday, because that would be right."
Baseball's commissioner, the presidents of both leagues, former teammates and old friends paid respects to Gilliam, the journeyman utility man who in ironic contrast to his warmth came to be called "Devil," in honour of his eerie dimination of card games in the Dodger clubhouse.
A 10-foot-tall "19" stood in front of the church altar. Blue orchids rested on a blue casket. A bunch of flowers carried a simple message: "Mr. 19." It was no simple funeral, however. Television cameras and lights followed celebrities and Gilliam's widow. Edwina. Speakers talked into a bank of microphones. It was, sadly, as much a media event as a memorial, and yet, happily, dignity survived the assault.
Dignity has been under siege for a time here. Since Gilliam fell unconscious Sept. 15, the Dodgers have dedicated their efforts to him. In the frenetic moments after winning the National League championship, Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda shouted, "We won it for the Devil, we won it for the Devil."
And when the Dodgers won the first game of this World Series, thanks mostly to two home runs by Davey Lopes and fine pitching by Tommy John, newspaperman naturally asked about Gilliam's influence.
Lopes, perhaps the Dodgers closest to Gilliam, said the Yankees are playing 50 Dodgers, not 25, because Gilliam's spirit is in them all. "If you'll look, you'll see Jim Gilliam filling all the holes," Lopes said, baseball jargon meaning Gilliam is playing defense in so many places the Yankees cannot possibly hit a ball that won't be caught.
John said he was sure of victory because Gilliam is up there in heaven watching.
One feared the worst at the funeral services, then, for it seemed not only possible but inevitable that someone, from the pulpit, would call on Jim Gilliam to ask Lasorda's famous buddy, The Big Dodgers in the Sky, for three more victories over the Yankees.
Nothing like that happened. It was, instead, an emotional celebration of, first, Gilliam the ballplayer, and, second, Gilliam the spirited black man in a white man's world. What began at second base ended in the hearts of all who heard.
Lasorda said Gilliam was unique because he never said a mean word about anyone. Joe Black, an old Dodger pitcher and once Gilliam's roommate, said Gilliam turned down a high-faluting job with Black. "He was an honest man," Black said, "and he told me, "You know how far I went in school. I couldn't go to meetings, stand up and talk.Thanks, anyway,'"
Reggie Jackson, representing the Yankees, said Gilliam's death was ordained by God for this time of the year because "now was the best time, the World Series, with everyone watching . . . so all of God's children could look inside Jim Gilliam" and see the good that might otherwise go unseen.
Walter Alston, the manager who first put Gilliam in the Dodger lineup, called him unselfish and said, "I will always benefit for having known Jim Gilliam." Alston's voice broke. He wept.
Lopes wept for two hours. He sat in front of a thousand people, crying. "Jim Gilliam truly was a great, great man," Lopes said. He sat down to cry.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson raised Gilliam's life from the base paths. Once a track man, Jackson said running records are not official if the wind is at the athlete's back. Against a head wind, though, everything counts. And Jackson, the national director of Operation PUSH, said Gilliam's life was run into a head wind.
Jackson's speech was beautiful in its images, rythms and sounds. He played words against silence as an angel might sweeten the heavens with a harp's music. "His father died when Jim was 6 months old," Jackson said. "That was running into a head wind.
"His mother taught him to play baseball with a rag ball and a broomstick. He couldn't use the Babe Ruth League. . . . A head wind. . . . He was a pioneer, he rode in the back of the bus, he stayed in separate facilities, he lived a double standard but had a single obligation to perform. . . . A head wind.
"He was a first-class man, but a second-class citizen. . . . A head wind. He should have been a manager. Some get four, five shots. He was prepared. He had the discipline, the desire and the drive. But he had to smile through his tears."