Gibbons hands Martin reins for Blue Jays’ season finale

Join Tim and Sid as they discuss the Toronto Blue Jays saying goodbye to manager John Gibbons.

TAMPA, Fla. – John Gibbons walked into the main area of the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse Saturday afternoon and stumbled into Russell Martin holding court with a group of reporters.

"Hey," he bellowed out to his catcher. "Tomorrow morning, pre-gamer (with the media), too."

"Pre-gamer?" Martin replied. "Yeah. You’re off tomorrow."

Gibbons will indeed take his final day as Blue Jays manager off, handing the reins to Martin, his beloved veteran backstop banished to the bench since suiting up at third base Sept. 3 so the front office could get a look at the kids.

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The idea was first floated by Gibbons to Martin in the dugout during a game a couple of weeks ago, an idea Martin quickly embraced. He remembered Joe Torre doing it with his veteran players on the final day of each season when both were with the Los Angeles Dodgers back in the day, "one of those things where it was kind of funny."

"Everything went well," Martin continued. "I think the National League is probably a little bit tougher to manage as far as making moves and stuff like that. American League’s pretty simple. Just go out there and let the guys play. There’s tons of guys on the bench too if you’ve got to make moves or something like that. I’m not too worried about it."

Gibbons will let Martin run the game as he sees fit, the only restrictions being that neither Justin Smoak nor Kendrys Morales is available to play. Pitching coach Pete Walker will let him know if any arms are off limits, otherwise, the roster is at his disposal.

"Let him have a little bit of fun with it," said Gibbons. "Let him see how tough it is."

Asked whether he plans to be in the dugout, Gibbons replied, "I’ll kind of come and go."

The role change for Martin should add a dose of levity to a final day of conflicting emotions, with Gibbons set to depart and the coaching staff heading into a period of uncertainty until a new manager is hired.

Martin is one of the few remaining veterans on a rebuilt roster now stocked with youth. At 35, with one year at $20 million remaining on the $82-million, five-year deal, he’s on the back-end of a remarkable career during which he’s been named an all-star four times and consistently been among the top receivers in the game. He’s also hit 185 homers while posting a .749 OPS across 13 seasons in the majors, making him a rare two-way threat behind the plate.

While his future is somewhat uncertain with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire pushing hard for more playing time, Martin isn’t thinking beyond his playing days just yet.

"I don’t think so," he said when asked if he’d like to one day manage for real, "but things can change."

For his part, Gibbons thinks Martin "would be outstanding. One of the reasons I’m doing it – let him get a taste of it. He will have made too much money to want to do it, though."

If so, Martin would become one of a handful of former players Gibbons has managed to have gone on to coach in the majors, a list that includes Walker, Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward, Los Angeles Angels hitting coach Eric Hinske, Miami Marlins assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino and Blue Jays bullpen catcher Jason Phillips.

"It makes me proud," Gibbons said of his former players now coaching. "It’s baseball, it’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t surprise me. You know what kind of individuals they are, it’s a good feeling. You get attached to these guys over the years and you want them all to be successful one way or another during their career and post-career."

Martin has played under some of the game’s top managers in recent years. He broke in with the Dodgers under Grady Little and later played for Torre. After that it was Joe Girardi with the Yankees, Clint Hurdle with the Pirates and Gibbons.

"They all played a part in my development and understanding the game," said Martin. "They all have their own styles. They’re all a little bit different. There’s definitely something I can find from each one of them to utilize. I don’t know if I’m going to use that stuff (Sunday), but if I were to manage, I definitely feel like I would have a good idea of what I’d like to do."

Moments later, as he was nearing the end of his chat, first base coach Tim Leiper walked by and asked Martin if he was going to fire any staff members.


"No," Martin answered with a smile. "They’re good for one more day."

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