The Jays named John Gibbons as their new manager Tuesday. (The Canadian Press)It's been a franchise-altering week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Less than 24 hours after Bud Selig approved the 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins and the organization officially announced the signing of outfielder Melky Cabrera, general manager Alex Anthopoulos announced Tuesday morning that John Gibbons was returning to the manager's seat some four years after being fired.
Gibbons spent parts of five seasons as the Jays skipper between 2004-2008 and accumulated a 305-305 record. While he never led the Jays to the post-season, he was a part of one of their most "successful" non-playoff seasons when he led the franchise to an 87- 75 record and second place in the tough American League East in 2006, a record they haven't matched since. Jeff Blair of The Globe and Mail even went as far as to refer to Gibbons as the most underrated manager in Blue Jays history.
Prior to taking over as manager in Toronto in 2006 Gibbons also spent time at other coaching positions within the organization including serving as the team's bullpen coach for part of the 2002 season. He is held in high regard for his ability to manage the corps of relief pitchers.
Many Jays fans, however (including the ones who expressed their annoyance with the rehiring of Gibbons on radio shows and through social media Tuesday morning) remember the former catcher for the wrong reasons. Two of those relate to altercations with players on his roster. During the 2006 season then Jays DH Shea Hillenbrand wrote "the ship is sinking" on the team's clubhouse display board. Gibbons responded, behind closed doors, by challenging Hillenbrand to a fight. Gibbons also got into a dugout scuffle with former Jays starting pitcher Ted Lilly that same season after Lilly was upset for being taken out of a game.
Now, not that any team ever wants physical altercations between coach and player, but both those incidents prove that Gibbons isn't afraid to hold players accountable for their actions. And that will be welcomed by some folks within the Blue Jays because departing manager John Farrell appeared to fall short when it came to making players accountable. The Boston-bound skipper was also criticized for taking a hands-off approach during the Yunel Escobar eye-black incident. It's obvious the young Jays roster needs some tough love in the clubhouse. Gibbons can provide that and at the same time he's revered by his former players.
"I'm thrilled for John to be the manager of this club," Anthopoulos said at Tuesday's news conference. "From my standpoint I don't know that there was anybody better in terms of managing a bullpen, connecting with the players, connecting with the front office, holding players accountable, really everything you want in a manager. From my standpoint I don't have any stronger belief that this is the right guy to lead this team and I've got more conviction in this hire and this move probably than any transaction that we've made here."
Anthopoulos also said that while he understands that Gibbons may not have been the popular candidate amongst fans and media (think Jim Tracey, Manny Acta, Sandy Alomar Jr., Tim Wallach, Don Wakamatsu among others) he needed to trust his gut on this one.
"The things I've regretted most in my time as general manager are the decisions where I didn't follow my instincts and [the ones where] I may have wavered slightly and I haven't done too often, but I've done it a few times where I've made decisions based on what the optics might be, what the perception might be, how the media might react and those are the decisions that have bothered me the most," he said.
"I'm in this chair to do what I believe is right and I really believe I can say from this point I'm not ever going to be swayed by what the perception could be, good or bad, I'm going to make the decisions that I feel are right for the organization.''
And that's maybe the most important point about this hiring. Nobody was anointing Gibbons as the next Jays manager, but Anthopoulos has made the move that he feels is right based on what he knows about Gibbons and his clubhouse. And ultimately this managerial hiring along with the 12-player trade with the Marlins and the signing of Cabrera will all together define Anthopoulos' tenure in Toronto.