Gibbons out; Gaston returns to Jays
Toronto turns back to two-time World Series-winning skipper
PITTSBURGH -- Cito Gaston was invited out to California seven years ago to interview for the Dodgers' managerial vacancy. Gaston respectfully declined the opportunity, even though he still had a desire to manage again.
His reasoning was simple.
Gaston had interviewed for a handful of manager's jobs before that opportunity came along and he didn't want to toil through yet another unsuccessful sitdown. If Gaston was going to manage again, it'd be when a team came calling with a job offer.
That offer finally came again Friday, when the Blue Jays dismissed manager John Gibbons, along with three coaches, and handed Gaston the same seat he held with Toronto 11 years ago. The Jays didn't ask to interview Gaston. Toronto believed he was the man who could help resuscitate the struggling club.
"We know we've got a better team than this," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "Right now, we just needed something to spark us, and I think Cito is the right guy for that."
Gaston had been out of baseball since 2001, but that didn't mean he wasn't interested in leading a club again. Over the past few years, during which Gaston made occasional appearances at Spring Training as a guest coach with the Jays, Ricciardi had even asked if Gastaon still wanted to be at the helm.
"He's asked me that a few times, 'Would you manage again?'" Gaston said during a press conference at PNC Park on Friday. "I said, 'If someone came to me and asked me to manage again, I probably would.'"
The Jays not only asked Gaston, who helped guide Toronto to World Series titles in 1992 and '93, to return as the manager, but the team also granted him the ability to retool the club's coaching staff. Hitting coach Gary Denbo, who was signed to a two-year deal over winter by Ricciardi, was let go, as were first-base coach Ernie Whitt and third-base coach Marty Pevey.
Gaston's return to managing following an 11-year lapse is unusual, but not unprecedented.
Larry Bowa, in fact, went 13 years between jobs following his dismissal by the Padres in 1988. Bowa's next gig began in 2001, when he took over as Phillies manager.
Others who have waited 11 years between managerial posts include Leo Durocher, who rebounded from the 1955 New York Giants with the 1966 Cubs, and Frank Robinson, from the 1991 Orioles to the 2002 Montreal Expos. Jeff Torborg (1979 Indians to 1989 White Sox) served a 10-year "sabbatical."
Of course, only one day before Gaston's return, the Seattle Mariners replaced John McLaren with Jim Riggleman, whose previous managerial job had been with the Cubs in 1999.
Taking over as the new hitting coach is Gene Tenace, who spent time as a bench coach and hitting coach under Gaston from 1990 to '97. Nick Leyva assumes the role of third-base coach -- a job he filled on Gaston's previous staff from 1993-97. Dwayne Murphy was hired as the new first-base coach after serving as Toronto's roving Minor League hitting instructor.
The only members of Gibbons' coaching staff to retain their responsibilities were bench coach Brian Butterfield, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and bullpen coach Bruce Walton.
"Anytime a manager comes in," Ricciardi said, "he should have the ability to pick his own staff members. In this case, Cito feels strongly about the guys that he's asked to bring in here and we're more than willing to oblige. I think it's going to be a nice mix of two different staffs."
The sweeping changes to the club's staff came in response to the poor showing through the first three months of the season by the Jays, who entered Friday with a 35-39 record. Toronto had hoped to compete for a playoff spot this year, but a slumping offense has hindered that goal to this point.
"You feel bad for Gibby and the other guys," said center fielder Vernon Wells, who has witnessed four managerial changes in his time with the Jays. "This definitely doesn't take the pressure off -- that's for sure. Now, when you make that kind of move, that kind of tells you that you need to start turning things around."
Heading into the opener of a three-game Interleague set against the Pirates, the Blue Jays had lost five games and six series in a row, compiling a 4-13 record over their past 17 games. That showing -- largely the result of an inconsistent and power-starved offense -- came after Toronto won 20 games in May.
"We feel like we've underachieved at this point," said Ricciardi, whose club resides in last place in the American League East. "We feel like we have a good ballclub, and there's still a lot of the season left. While we have a chance to turn things around, we felt that at this time, this move was needed.
"I think Gibby's a good manager and I think Gibby's going to manage again in the big leagues. I just think sometimes we're all victims of how the team goes out and plays. From our standpoint, we've underachieved. The players will tell you that and I'll tell you that."
In his time as Toronto's manager, Gibbons compiled a 305-305 record, joining Gaston and Bobby Cox as the only managers in franchise history to win at least 300 games. Gibbons, 46, joined the Jays' staff as a bullpen catcher in 2002, and eventually rose to the full-time manager's position by 2005.
The 64-year-old Gaston managed the Jays from 1989-97 and guided the franchise to four playoff appearances, including Toronto's only World Series championships. In his previous time as the club's manager, Gaston compiled a 681-635 record in a franchise-high 1,316 games.
Prior to being named the Blue Jays' manager the past time around, Gaston had served as the club's hitting coach from 1982-89 -- a role he went on to hold again from 2000-01. Gaston said taking over this season is much different because he doesn't know the hitters as well as he did the last time the promotion presented itself.
"I was also a coach here for seven years before that happened," Gaston said. "I felt like I knew the guys a little bit better than I know these guys. That part of it's different, because, when I took over as the interim manager, I knew my hitters inside out."
Even so, Ricciardi felt it was the right move to bring in an experienced manager who brings a certain level of respect with him.
"Right now, it's not the time to bring in a younger manager," Ricciardi said. "Where we are and what's expected of us, I think having someone who has a lot of experience behind him and has a lot credibility with him [is the best decision]."
Gaston was looking forward to his newfound, yet familiar, chance.
"I guess I held out long enough so I could come back here," he said. "This is where my heart's at. J.P. was nice enough to bring me back. It's been a tough day for J.P., and also for myself, because we did lose some friends today.
"We're going to see if we can't start the season over tonight -- start it all over and see if we can't go from here and get this team back where it should be."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.