According to a report by Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, the Blue Jays’ next manager will be one familiar to the city, the club and its fans – the second-winningest manager in Jays’ history, John Gibbons, is coming back for another shot.
Gibbons’ hiring, if it’s true, is a choice completely out of left field – until you look closely at what Alex Anthopoulos said at the general managers meetings in California a couple of weeks ago. He talked about second-chance guys, those who had managed in the majors before, and mentioned how everyone gets better the second time around, with experience under their belt. He then added that the most important thing for him in a manager – since whoever gets hired will be able to run a game, handle the media, etc. – was the fit with the city, the front office and the players.
Those things should have pointed us towards Gibbons, but I didn’t have him on my list of candidates, mostly because he would have inspired in many fans thoughts of a bygone, unsuccessful era and I thought the Blue Jays would look elsewhere for that reason, as well as the fact that Gibby’s well-publicized blow-ups with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly would be a topic of conversation.
I think it’s a tremendous choice, though, and said as much a couple of days ago on Twitter when Sportsnet’s own George Popalis took a shot at Gibbons, saying that even he could win 90 games with the lineup that Alex Anthopoulos is putting together this off-season. My response was: “Ripping Gibby? No! Best Blue Jays manager since Bobby Cox.”
I felt that way then, and still feel that way now.
John Gibbons was J.P. Ricciardi’s former roommate in the minor leagues, and after a long and successful stint managing in the minor leagues, he came to Toronto as the bullpen catcher in 2002, promoted to first-base coach in mid-year when Buck Martinez was fired as manager. Gibbons remained on Carlos Tosca’s staff and took over as skipper when Tosca was shown the door late in the 2004 season.
In all, Gibbons managed the Blue Jays for three full seasons before being fired in late June of 2008, leading them to a second-place finish (87 wins) in 2007 – that’s their highest win total in the 21st Century, by the way – and was a .500 manager overall, with 305 wins and as many losses.
Of course, a manager is only as good as his players, so you can’t really look at win-loss records. What you look at was how a guy ran a game, how he ran a bullpen and how he handled his players, and Gibbons did all those things exceedingly well. It certainly wasn’t his fault that some of his teams were absymal at hitting with runners in scoring position – I don’t recall him ever once grabbing a bat.
There were those much-publicized blow-ups, and Gibbons could have handled both of them better, but lets remember that Lilly was the one who was in the process of blowing an eight-run lead in the third inning of a game and had the gall to challenge his manager on the mound about being yanked, and Hillenbrand very publically (within the clubhouse) tried to start a mutiny that was quickly put down by Gregg Zaun, first and foremost.
Gibbons is an excellent baseball man – though I think sometimes he likes to really Texas up his accent to make people underestimate him – and was a terrific manager for the Blue Jays in his first go-round. He’d be a great fit to try to take this new-look squad to the next level. Since his dismissal in 2008, he’s spent time as the Kansas City Royals’ bench coach and the manager of the San Antonio Missions of the AA Texas League.