ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Roster transactions in baseball are typically handled in a mechanical and straight-forward manner, the news conveyed from manager to player, word eventually filtering out around the clubhouse as others take note.
Back in the day, a demoted player was said to have died, an apt description of how a teammate’s sudden departure felt to those left behind.
Gone in an instant, turn the page.
That’s what made the way Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons handled the optioning of Munenori Kawasaki so unusual. After breaking the news to the beloved shortstop, he walked Kawasaki out of his office, down the hall and into the middle of the clubhouse, where he informed the team of the move.
“I don’t know if he knew what was going on,” Gibbons said with a smile.
Announcing such a move to his players was a first for Gibbons, and something veteran Mark Buehrle also said he’d never seen before in 14 big-league seasons, underlining how much Kawasaki meant to his Blue Jays teammates.
“It was different,” Gibbons said Wednesday, recalling the previous night. “It’s always tough sending anyone out, but there’s something special about this guy. He was so well liked and loved by his teammates, they admired him, that instead of everybody coming and passing, knowing it was him and everyone doing their own thing, I thought it would be good for him and good for them.”
The engaging and quirky Kawasaki was all smiles in the aftermath in stark contrast to the sombreness typically shown by demoted players.
While Gibbons quipped that they were “limited in our conversations,” Kawasaki did thank him for the opportunity, promised to watch Blue Jays games on TV and do all he can to help triple-A Buffalo win.
“That’s what he’ll do,” said Gibbons. “He’ll make that team better, no doubt about it. But he’ll back sooner or later somehow.”
Still, the hand-wringing over what in reality is a marginal player defies logic, particularly given that his departure ushered in the return of superstar Jose Reyes.
The decision was largely expected in the clubhouse and there was a lot of excitement about Reyes. But there was also an appreciation for Kawasaki’s role in helping the Blue Jays bridge the 66-game injury gap at 34-32.
“There was something different about this one,” said Gibbons. “There are difference-makers in the game not just on the field, and regardless of our record, I think he helped bring the team together. It felt from spring training on it was a tight-knit bunch anyway, but through some tough times when we were struggling and there’s doubt and all that, he made things fun again, I guess you could say.
“When he’s cheering for his teammates, it’s legit. Thank God the guy replacing him is a superstar, not just Average Joe out there. He probably wouldn’t be real popular.”