Toronto Blue Jays manager, John Gibbons is not exactly on his way out. Far from it.
He is an enigma. The lazy southern drawl, the down to earth attitude — too laid back for some — and the guy to defend his players, who isn’t afraid to be thrown out of a game in doing so. He’s a manager that seems to listen to his players when decisions aren’t black and white. Who exactly is John Gibbons and will he be the one to take the Jays all the way this season?
Gibbons was born in Great Falls, Montana and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He is the son of a United States Air Force colonel and had his first little league at bat playing in Happy Valley – Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. One could argue that while he was born in the U.S.A, his baseball self was born in Canada, making him Texan Canadian. So technically he started his career here but the question is, will it end here as well?
Gibbons’ 18 game MLB career started in 1984 as a catcher for the Mets and he was the Mets bullpen catcher during the 1986 post season run in which they won the World Series. He retired from playing in 1990, posting underwhelming career numbers of .220, one home run and two RBIs in 50 at bats.
His coaching career started in 1991 as a MiLB hitting instructor, but by 1995 had stepped into the manager role. He led the Kingsport Mets to the Appalachian League Championships that year, and the St. Lucie Mets to the Florida State League title. In 1998 he brought the Eastern League Binghamton Mets to the playoffs. After three seasons as manager of the Norfolk Tides they won the International League West Division title in 2001.
It was Toronto Blue Jays GM, J.P Ricciardi, who brought his former minor league roommate John Gibbons to the organization in 2002, first as a bullpen catcher -though by June of that year he was first base coach. He was promoted to Manager after Carlos Tosca was given the boot in 2004. He was given a one year extension for 2005 but just weeks into the season, he was extended for three years.
Gibbons had a record of 80-82 for his first full season and in 2006 the Jays were in second, the first time they had finished above third since their World Series winning 1993 season. He was fired by the Jays June 20th, 2008 when the team was in a below .500 slump, and replaced by Cito Gaston. Gibbons was brought back to the Blue Jays in 2013 and from that time to the present, his record stands at 250-236.
Though not a record beyond reproach, he was the one to lead the Jays to their first playoff birth in 22 years which as anyone can attest, lit the city, the country and Blue Jays fever on fire. He has made decisions that fans agree with and decisions that fans disagree with. There is vey little middle ground with John Gibbons. While some may consider his managerial style too soft, his player interaction history says different.
It was July 2006 when Blue Jays infielder Shea Hillenbrand wrote negative comments on a display board in the clubhouse and was allegedly challenged to a fight by Gibbons. That same year Gibbons got into a shoving match after having a problem removing Ted Lilly from the mound. The issue according to Gibbons was insubordination. There are more stories out there across his tenure as the Blue Jays manager of his negative player interactions…not quite as laid back as most assume.
Despite the fact that there are negative player interactions, it could be argued that his biggest asset is his easy going style of managing a team and the relationships he builds with his players. He goes to bat for them – pardon the pun – and has shown he isn’t afraid to speak his mind in their defence. He was ejected three times in 2015 and received a game suspension. When you like and respect your boss, things just tend to go better.
Under contract for 2016, a clause stated that if still employed on New Year’s Day an automatic extension through 2017 would come into effect. One would surmise that with the standing ovation Gibbons received at the Blue Jays Leadoff event that fans are in his corner, though we have all seen how fast that can change. Gibbons response to the ovation? A smile and a “What a difference a year makes” quip.
So now the musings on social media about the recent hiring of Eric Wedge as a player development advisor have begun. As a former manager for the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, conspiracy theorists are pegging him as the manager in waiting in the never ending story of the Clevelandizing of the Blue Jays. Is that a possibility? Yes. Yes it is. The fact is, there is nowhere in the MLB where a job isn’t judged on performance. That pretty much goes for the front office too. It does seem that John Gibbons is the right skipper to lead the Blue Jays to their first World Series win since 1993, and he seems to understand what is needed to get there. He spoke of this at the Blue Jays Leadoff event Thursday, Feb. 4th.
Let’s not be a one-hit wonder, all of a sudden disappear this year and all is forgotten. This team is too good for that to happen. We need to pick up where we left off last year. It’s been so long coming (for the franchise) to get to there, we gotta work harder than we did the year before. But don’t lose that good feeling we had because very few of us had felt that before.
Seems the best approach is of the wait and see variety, but it has been made clear that both Gibbons and the Blue Jays want to capitalize on the energy and fire of last season and ride that all the way to a World Series win. Make no mistake, a waiting Wedge or not, John Gibbons wants to win, and he’s going to prove that he is just the guy to lead us there.
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*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.