They met on the set of Good Morning America in 1996.
One was earning $800,000 US a year.
The other was selling $8 items from his vending cart.
And yet the friendship grew that day as they discussed Camden Yards, the new home of the Baltimore Orioles, on the show.
Pat Gillick, fresh from a year on the sidelines, after running the Blue Jays from 1977-to-1994 and serving as a consultant to new GM Gord Ash, was the new GM of the Orioles.
Howard Hart was a vendor at Camden Yards, the No. 1 vendor.
“He treated me like I was his equal,” Hart, 58, said this week.
Hart sold beer at University of Maryland games, for the Baltimore Ravens, eventually the Washington Nationals and each spring he’d work at Jack Russell or Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I saw him sitting in Clearwater a few years ago behind the Phillies dugout and I asked ‘what are you doing here?’ I don’t follow sports,” Hart said. “So, Mr. Gillick says ‘Howard, I’m the GM here now.’”
Gillick’s Hall of Fame induction pass list dates back to scouting friendships working with the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees in the 1970s.
Like long-time former Jays scouts Wayne Morgan, Wayne Norton, Bob Engle, Gordon Lakey and Epy Guerrero.
Scouts, friends, relatives, front-office people, retired players ... and one beer vendor.
“You have no idea how much he lifted my heart when I opened the invitation, I almost fell over I was so honoured, that is the kind of man he is,” said Hart, “and now I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it.”
Hart was speaking from Orlando as his 13-year-old twin grand-children, Emily and Abby, underwent surgery to remove a blockage. Both are battling cerebral palsy.
Three springs ago in Clearwater Hart was talking to Dallas Green, a Phillies executive and Gillick, when fans told him to hurry up.
“Why are you giving him all the attention, what about us?” a thirsty customer yelled.
“This is the GM of the Phillies and some day he’s going into the Hall of Fame,” Hart said.
“Sure, hurry up with the beer,” said the fan.
“He’s going in, I’m giving the speech,” Hart replied.
This was years before Gillick had even been nominated.
“He always sat with his legs folded, arms crossed, you never knew what he was thinking,” Hart said. “I would never want to play cards with him.”
This spring the vendor didn’t see the Hall of Fame inductee. Gillick sat upstairs with Green whose nine-year-old granddaughter, Christina Taylor Green , was killed during a shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., that also left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition.
“So many people came to Mr. Green to express their sympathies, Mr. Green couldn’t watch the game,” Hart said.
Finally, one day Hart caught up with Gillick and jokingly opened with “you’re ducking me, you don’t want me to give your speech.”
Gillick didn’t want to give Sunday’s induction speech. He asked if his daughter Kim could deliver it.
Hall of Fame CEO Jeff Idelson said no.
“Why not,” Gillick said. “You people give speeches for guys who have died?”
Hart thinks Gillick’s greatest achievement in Baltimore was not that the team made the post-season two of the three seasons he ran the team, but rather bringing Eddie Murray back so he could hit his 500th homer as an Oriole.
“Look what Baltimore has done since he left,” Hart said. “He might be an architect and a genius in baseball, but he is a kind man. He’s a Hall of Famer, I’m nothing but a vendor, I told him because of you and Ernie Tyler, I was allowed to touch the hem of Major League Baseball.”
Tyler is as beloved in Baltimore as Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken or Murray. He worked for the Orioles for 51 years as an usher and umpire attendant, responsible for rubbing game balls with mud so the surface would not be slick.
His work ethic put Ripken’s to shame. Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games. Tyler worked almost 48 years without missing work ... 3,819 straight home games (1960-2007). His streak ended when he attended Ripken’s induction.
“You know what Mr. Gillick said to me?” Hart said his voice cracking. “He said he was honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as Ernie Tyler.”