Bill Gorman

Bill Gorman served as the GM of the Omaha Royals from 1971-2001.

There’s no crying in baseball, but Monday was a sad day at the old ball yard.

That’s when several of Bill Gorman’s friends sent emails to say that the former Omaha Royals general manager had passed away last weekend in Arizona.

Gorman was the second O-Royals GM, but he was an original. He replaced Bob Quinn in 1971 and was himself replaced by Doug Stewart in 2001.

According to Lou Gorman (former K.C. director of farm systems) in his book, “High and Inside, My Life in the Front Offices of Baseball,” Bill Gorman came to Omaha from the New York Mets Class A team — by recommendation of Whitey Herzog, then the Mets’ director of baseball operations. Whitey knew what he was doing.

For the 30 years he roamed Rosenblatt Stadium, managers and future major leaguers and average players came and went, but Gorman was the face of the Omaha Royals.

You’d often see him in the short-sleeved white shirt, shaking hands, and that smirk on his face usually meant he had just told one of his trademark jokes.

This was a time before minor league ball needed amusement amenities and cool ballparks to get fans to come out. Gorman had his own sales devices: The Royals paid attention to their fans. And, there were always tickets to be had.

Gorman would give discounts, and sometimes freebies, to large groups. But he knew, deep down, if he could get someone who had never been to a game into Rosenblatt, they would be back.

He drifted away from Omaha after 2001 and landed with the Fresno Grizzlies. Today, the Royals have a different name and park, but Gorman’s tradition of being fan-friendly and having a big presence in the community is being carried on by Martie Cordaro and his staff.

Former Royals play-by-play man Kevin McNabb, now sports director of KLIR in Columbus, Nebraska, wrote, “He was a funny guy who really cared about his employees. He was very loyal ... loved baseball, its fans, the people who worked and played the game.”

Andy Lewis, another former Royals employee, emailed this story about his first day working for Gorman.

Lewis said that Gorman asked him how his first day was going. Lewis said, “Great,” but added he didn’t know what to do.

Gorman then said, “Do you have a phone at your desk?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, we should probably see if anyone wants to come to the game tonight.”

Lewis said he looked at Gorman kind of funny and said, “Sure, but how?”

Without saying a word, Gorman grabbed a huge phone book, dropped it on Lewis’ desk and said, “There you go.”

What a beauty. If there’s a ballgame in heaven, Gorman is making sure the fans see it — even if they don’t have a ticket.

» The last time the Creighton and Nebraska baseball teams both made the NCAA tournament was 2007. Could we be headed toward that in 2016? The Huskers and Jays, who meet Tuesday night at Haymarket Park, are off to hot starts. They have a lot of winning to do to get those RPIs up. But they look like they’re going to be in the hunt. CU is ranked No. 4 nationally in ERA (2.15), while NU is 17th nationally in home runs (26). Spring is better when these two are playing good ball.

» Executive director Shane Bradford and the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame annually remind us what a great sports town we live in. This year’s class: Dana Altman, Ron Kellogg, Jed Ortmeyer, Alice Schmidt, Grant Simmons, Kerry Trotter and the 1996 Creighton soccer team.

This year’s event is April 21 at the Scott Center on the UNO campus. Tickets can be purchased by going to omahasportshalloffame.com.

» I heard this question more than once last week: Could Nebraska have ever hired Altman over the last 16 years?

I say no. Because of timing.

NU had openings in 2000, 2006 (August) and 2012. In 2000, Altman just had things rolling at CU and worked for an athletic director who was like a best friend — and he was also tight with several boosters. It would have been a huge slap at Creighton for him to take that job.

(And, frankly, I’m not sure Bill Byrne was interested in hiring the Creighton coach.)

In 2006, bad timing again. Even though Altman was several months away from nearly leaving for Arkansas, he wasn’t leaving for NU in August. And he certainly wasn’t leaving to coach for Steve Pederson.

Altman reveres Tom Osborne, but in 2012, he had just started construction at Oregon.

Now, you never say never about the future. But after Oregon’s run in this year’s NCAA tourney, Altman has the most big-time talent he’s ever had and is closer than ever to reaching the Holy Grail, the Final Four. Would he ever leave now that he’s this close? Hard to see it.

» Remember when nobody could imagine the NCAA ever allowing a merry-go-round and kids stuff at the College World Series? Presenting the 10th Street Ferris wheel, 100 feet tall, which will certainly be in view for the ESPN cameras during the CWS. This is where sports is going, pushing the envelope of tradition to lure younger fans and families. You wonder if we’ll get that merry-go-round inside TD Ameritrade Park yet.

» You don’t hang banners for conference RPI rankings. You hang them for Final Four berths. Yeah, celebrate, Big East. Villanova in the Final Four is called validation.

» From the Totally Cool Department: Megan Whittaker of Elkhorn and Kaitlyn Hanna of Omaha will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt championship at Augusta National on April 3. The event is on the Golf Channel and the kids get to meet a guy named Jordan Spieth.

Question: Can the dads sneak their clubs onto the course?

» Somebody asked me if I wanted a fig leaf on my new Nebraska license plate. Give me one with Memorial Stadium stamped on it, complete with press box.

» One more and I’m outta here: When someone dies, you occasionally hear the saying “Don’t cry because they’re gone, smile because they were here.” This applies to my friend Bill Mackintosh.

Billy Mack lost his battle with prostate cancer on Saturday. The photo that accompanied his obituary in Monday’s World-Herald was classic Bill. Golf cap. Smile. That’s how I’ll remember him.

OK, and there’s this story I want to share with you.

Back in the fall of 1997, when I was that guy who didn’t know how to commit to the girl of his dreams, I ran into Bill and his partner in golf and crime, Steve Hayes, at the 19th hole.

Long story short: By the time the 19th hole was played, Hayes and Mackintosh convinced me getting married was the greatest thing in the world. These two fun-loving husbands and dads kept saying, “Are you crazy? What are you waiting for? It’s the best thing we ever did.”

A couple months later, I popped the question at the Orange Bowl, she miraculously said yes, Tom Osborne chimed in, and I wrote about it in the next day’s column.

When I got home from that Tennessee-Nebraska game, I had several messages on my answering machine. Included was one each from Hayes and Mackintosh, who said:

“Oh my God! What did you do?! WE WERE JUST KIDDING!”

Gonna miss you, Bill. Thanks for so many smiles.

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