6:15 PM Eastern
As I wrote last night, I expected that yesterday was probably John Gibbons’ last game as Blue Jays manager. I thought maybe the 9th inning rally would have shown that there was enough of a spark in the team to save him, but it was doubtful.
But my expectation was that Gibbons alone would walk the plank, that the coaching staff would remain virtually intact, and that Brian Butterfield or Marty Pevey would take the reins until a veteran manager was hired. Man, was I wrong.
The Blue Jays instead looked ahead to the past, re-uniting half the coaching crew that took them to their last World Series win with Cito Gaston back as interim manager, Gene Tenace back as hitting coach and Nick Leyva back coaching third base. Dismissed along with Gibby, Gary Denbo and Marty Pevey was heir-not-so-apparent Ernie Whitt, and Dwayne Murphy, the ex-Oakland centrefielder, takes over as first base coach.
It’s a stunning move. Incredible and unprecedented. So crazy that it just might work? The jury’s out on that.
I have been unrelenting in saying that I don’t think the Jays’ current predicament is John Gibbons’ fault, and I didn’t think a managerial change would cure the team’s complete and utter inability to produce runs. Those opinions are now put to the test (though chance alone says that the hitting with runners in scoring position is bound to improve).
I have also said in this very virtual space that Cito Gaston isn’t the right guy to take over long-term, that trying to re-create the past doesn’t work, and that the end of Cito’s time at the helm here was pretty rough (I think the words “train” and “wreck” were used).
I’m not backing off on that either, but I do agree with Bob McCown who said this afternoon that even though he was no fan of Gaston’s, he couldn’t think of a better guy to come in and run this thing for the next little while.
Cito has a ton of managerial experience, obviously, and has had a great deal of success. He is the only one about whom that can be said who is also very familiar with the Jays’ players, having worked with them at Spring Training and served as a consultant to Paul Godfrey the last few years. I’m interested to see how this works out.
My recollection of Cito as a manager was that he wasn’t a great tactician, but he was a fantastic communicator. I wonder what, if anything, has changed about his management technique over the last 10 years. I’m immediately thrilled by two things about the line-up for his re-debut: Lyle Overbay is hitting second and John McDonald is playing shortstop with Roy Halladay on the mound.
I don’t love Overbay so high in the line-up against lefties, but I don’t remember Cito switching things around too much lefty-righty (I could be wrong). I love McDonald in there against all lefties (no idea if that’s the plan or not), and in there with Halladay pitching.
I’m going to miss John Gibbons. He got a pretty raw deal here (from his players), handed a team this season that had all the ingredients to succeed at a very high level, and the hitters just plain stopped hitting. Gibby is a great guy and was a good manager. I hope he gets another shot somewhere, though the last Blue Jays manager to wind up managing a different major-league team was Jimy Williams, who was fired 19 years and a couple of weeks ago.
One last note – this change has Paul Godfrey’s fingerprints all over it. Not that the team President shouldn’t have a major input into big decisions, but it seems more a Godfrey move than a J.P. Ricciardi move to me. Does this mean the clock is ticking on J.P.? I don’t think so. It may even mean his leash is longer, since this is Godfrey’s guy who has been put in place, not Ricciardi’s. This is not to mean I believe that Godfrey forced Ricciardi into this hire, but I do think – just my opinion – that it was his firm suggestion that Gaston be the guy to take over for now.
Those of you who hate J.P. and everything he ever does should be right behind this move, I would think, and those of you who love him (though that number certainly seems to be dwindling lately) may be scratching your heads. Isn’t this a great game?
Finally, to explain the reason this post is coming up so late and why I haven’t been on the air much today, I spent most of this afternoon attending the funeral of my great-uncle Jack Young. A wonderful, warm, kind-hearted man, he passed away Wednesday at the age of 88. It was very strange to have my phone ringing off the hook while I was on my way to and back from the cemetary, but I felt I did as much, work-wise, as I could have today. He was a big sports fan, owned a few racehorses, so I think he’d have been happy to see how in-demand I was today. But that was my deal this afternoon, spending time with family, dealing with the really important stuff, and trying to get the Jays news out as best I could.
Most heartfelt condolences to the whole family, my Great-Aunt Estelle and her children Arthur and Linda, Errol and Lorna, Karen and Jerry, David and Ellen, and all the grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc. It sucks when real life intrudes on our little fantasy world here.