Tao of Stieb: Fans split on John Gibbons’ worth as manager

Blue Jays insider Shi Davidi joins Good Show to discuss potential replacements for John Gibbons, in the event he is let go as Toronto's manager.

Somewhere over the past week or so, the notion that John Gibbons’ time as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays is coming to a close has grown from a probable outcome to seemingly inevitable.

As is often the case when managers reach the end of their rope, this has less to do with Gibbons’ performance, and more to do with a set of circumstances beyond his control, both on the field and in the strategic vision of the franchise’s future.

As some scrappy blogger wrote on his Blogspot site 10 years ago about the very same circumstance, with the same franchise and same manager: It’s not fair. But then again, fair’s got very little to do with it.

There are others who have and will continue to examine to what extent such a move makes sense to the franchise, and how we might evaluate Gibby’s tenure. But from the fan’s point of view, what is peculiar about his time as the skipper of the Blue Jays is how divided the fanbase has been about John Gibbons.

It’s a legacy split between two hashtags: #GibbyTheBest and #FireGibbons.

To have two camps so diametrically opposed to the actions of a baseball manager, you have to concede that their views can’t have that much to do with the man himself. These are discussions that go back to people’s fundamental beliefs in the game.

This is drawn out in stark relief when it comes to the manager’s use of “small ball” tactics. For those of us who have little use for bunting, or giving up outs to advance runners 90 feet, the fact that the Blue Jays have ranked in the bottom third of the league in sacrifices since his return is part of what makes him a great manager. The fact that they’ve laid down a mere three sacrifices this entire season – least in the majors – is a measure of his wisdom.

(The offensive machine that is the Boston Red Sox, in case you were wondering, has laid down four.)

For Gibbons’ critics, though, this is another example of a disengage, blasé manager who can’t be bothered to try to make things happen on the field. Or, and this is the rather ugly side of his group of detractors, he is not smart enough to do so.

That group was never particularly inclined to give him a chance, even in the moments when he had his successes. Their voices may have grown quieter in 2015 and 2016, but even then, they could pop up when an in-game outcome in the post-season went against the Blue Jays and lay it at the feet of Gibby.

Conversely, those who were among Gibbons’ greatest proponents have seemingly found less enthusiasm for defending his work over the past two seasons. Losing ugly will do that, and even if the poor play seemed to hinge more on the talent he was provided than the manner in which he deployed it, it was harder to get overly passionate in his defence.

There was also Gibbons’ “playing in dresses” comments in April of 2016, and his unapologetic assertion that people need to “lighten up” when confronted with them that may have curtailed some of the enthusiasm from some of his most ardent defenders.

Regardless of which camp you fall in when it comes to John Gibbons’ legacy, there’s one common misperception that developed early, based on his laid-back reputation and folksy Texas drawl. It may have even been the case that Gibby didn’t mind people underestimating his intelligence, because it played in his favour.

But make no mistake: John Gibbons is a highly intelligent man, and manager.

Having stood in a dozen spring training media scrums with him, I was always impressed at his command of those moments. You could see him measuring the questions and the questioner, and understanding how his comments would be framed as he prepared to respond. It might have sounded or read like a lot of “aw shucks”, but that has more to do with a lack of ego than a lack of smarts.

While answering to the media is just one part of the job, watching him field questions with that level of perceptivity and thoughtfulness could lead you to a conclusion that rather than being recycled into the managerial carousel, he could be destined for more of a senior advisor within a front office.

John Gibbons’ time as a manager may have come to an end in Toronto. That the #FireGibbons crowd isn’t celebrating, and the #GibbyTheBest crowd isn’t putting up much of a fight is surely a testament to that.

But as a clever baseball man, one can be sure that he’ll be back in baseball sooner rather than later. Maybe even within the Blue Jays organization.

And heck, he already came back to manage this franchise once. Would anyone be surprised to see him back in the Blue Jays dugout again, when the time is right?

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.