Joseph Peter McIlvane was born in 1947 in Narberth, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia. McIlvane had two brothers, one became a lawyer & the other an Opera singer, but for Joe it was always baseball.
The six foot five, Mcilvane started out his young career as a right handed pitcher. McIlvane was raised a strict Irish Catholic, & the only school that showed interest in him as a ball player was St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia. His parents were delighted, as he studied to be a priest then played baseball all summer.
In 1969 he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers & had to decide on baseball or the priesthood. It was a tough decision but he chose baseball; McIlvaine told the L.A. Times: "I think people have the perception that angels come down and sit on your shoulder and say, 'You're going to be a priest, It doesn't work that way. As hard as I tried, I think I told myself I wasn't giving this 100%. You have to be honest with yourself. When you're dealing with higher powers . . . well, you don't cheat higher powers. It really takes a commitment. You have to be celibate. You're giving up marriage. You don't have children. I don't think I was committed to making those sacrifices."
He played minor league ball from 1969-1973 but no teams were showing any interest in furthering his career. It was then he sat down with his coach, Jim Leyland, to finally decide if he should call it quits as a pitcher. Although the decision was yes, he did not want to leave baseball. He sent out resume's and got a job as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. In the 1970's he would scout for Baltimore, The California Angels & the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 1980 McIlvane got a job with the New York Mets new ownership, as the teams scouting director. He served in that position from 1981 to 1985 & then assistant GM to Frank Cashen from 1986-1990.
In those years McIlvaine helped the Mets acquire guys like; Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Howard Johnson, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Walt Terrell, and Kevin McReynolds in trades with other clubs. Those were good years for the Mets, topped by winning a World Championship in 1986. Young Joe McIlvane only 40 years old, future looked to be long & bright. He was told by ownership he would inherit Frank Cahens GM job after he retired & he was willing to wait.
But things were going wrong by 1989, the Mets had lost the 1988 NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers & had no other World Series or playoff appearances despite such a good team. When Lenny Dykstra & Roger McDowell were traded for Juan Samuel, the fans & the media let McIlvane have it. Even his nine year old son was being teased in school about his father's trade.
McIlvane said Mets Manager Davey Johnson was pushing the front office to trade Dykstra for a couple of years, seeing him as more trouble in a wild bunch of players. But it was McIlvane who took the heat, even Mets senior VP at the time; Al Harzin said the criticism he took was harsh.
A GM job with the San Diego Padres was open & McIlvane went for the job, even though Frank Cashen had first denied him the opportunity to interview for it.
Mets owner; Fred Wilpon was furious at San Diego owner Tom Werner claiming he had stolen McIlvane from him, which Werner claims was not the case. McIlvane served as Padre GM from 1990-1993. In his time there he drafted players like; Todd Helton (who did not sign), Derek Lee, Gary Mathews Jr. & Matt Clement.
In 1994 the Mets organization still wanted McIlvane & they got him back as he took over Harzins position as the Mets General Manager. McIlvane would sign players like; Jay Payton, Paul Wilson, Terrence Long & AJ Burnett. He was responsible for signing free agents Rick Reed & Bret Butler. He was also responsible for trading away Vince Coleman to get back Kevin McReynolds. He also traded away Bobby Bonilla for Damon Buford, Alex Ochoa & Jimmy Williams. He traded Jeromy Burnitz for Dave Mlicki & Paul Byrd, as well as trades sending away players like; Fernado Vina & Bret Saberhagen.
Under his reign, he acquired players like Pete Harnish, David Segui, Doug Henry & Bernard Gilkey.
Some criticize him for drafting certain players but not being able to sign them. Examples Aaron Rowand, Scott Proctor, Matt LeCroy, Garrett Atkins & Jeremy Guthrie.
The Mets finished third under Dallas Green in the 1994 strike shortened season. In 1995 they finished second but only won 67 games while losing 75. In 1996 they fell to 71-91 a fourth place finish, That year they fired Dallas Green & hired Bobby Valentine. McIlvane held his position until July 1997 when he was fired. The Mets were above .500 & finished 88-74 their best record since the early nineties. Steve Phillips took over his position.
After New York, McIlvane went to the Minnesota Twins organization where he was special assistant to the GM from 1998-2012. There he enjoyed six post season appearances, advancing to the ALCS in 2002. Since 2013 he has served as the GM's assistant with the Seattle Mariners.