Today marks Cito Gaston’s final home game as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s time to say goodbye to the only successful manager in the history of the Jays. He’s the only one who’s taken the team to a World Series – twice. Thus, he is the Jays’ only successful skipper. And, from the day he took over the dugout the first time, Gaston put the Jays on the path to winning.
When Cito first took over, in 1989, the Blue Jays were on the verge of becoming a great baseball team. Four years earlier, under current Atlanta Braves’ manager Bobby Cox (also retiring after this season), the Blue Jays reached the postseason for the first time. Kansas City Royals’ catcher Jim Sundberg made sure that ALCS did not end well for Toronto. Following that 99-win season for the Jays (still their winningest ever), manager Bobby Cox left the club. 43-year old Jimy Williams was named manager. He inherited a great team. The outfield of George Bell, Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby combined for 92 home runs in 1986. Pitchers Jimmy Key, Jim Clancy and Mark Eichhorn each won 14 games. As a manager, that’s hard to screw up…but, somehow, Jimy Williams managed it.
The problems started in 1987. Moody left fielder George Bell was named the American League’s MVP. 47 home runs, 134 RBI, 32 doubles. But next spring, because Bell was a defensive liability, Williams announced that Bell would be a full-time DH. This did not sit well with Bell and his motor-controlled mouth. After being booed, Bell declared that Toronto fans could “…kiss my purple butt.” Needless to say, the fans did not partake. And Williams, despite his best efforts, was toast.
After the 1989 Jays started 12-24, Williams was piped. Cue Cito Gaston. All Cito did, over the rest of that first season in SkyDome, was guide Toronto to a 77-49 finish and an ALCS date with Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s. No World Series, but that was coming. Almost immediately, Cito brought the Jays’ divergent personalities together.
In 1991, Gaston led his Jays to another ALCS. They lost to the Twins. But, in 1992, it all came together. Gaston’s greatest strength as a manager is to simply let his great players play. Little interference. A touch of guidance here and there. Let the stars clearly know what’s expected and let them do it. Those ’92 Jays did it perfectly. Jack Morris won 21. Juan Guzman won 16. Tom Henke saved 34. Joe Carter pounded 34 homers and 119 RBIs. Gaston could manage the youngsters, too. The oldest member of his 1992 starting infield was 3b Kelly Gruber at 30. Cito’s greatest strength is, and has always been, dealing with people.
In the 1992 World Series, Gaston outmanaged Cox, and the Jays tomahawk chopped their way to a six-game championship. That solidified Toronto’s love for Cito Gaston. The next season, cemented it. Especially when Joe Carter pounded his Series-winning, walk-off homer in Game Six.
Gaston continued to manage the Jays for four more seasons. He had little success because he had no players. No young superstars. No wily vets. Gaston was fired just as the 1997 was coming to an end. In the middle of 2008, Gaston returned. This season, with absolutely no pitching, Gaston’s Jays will finish with a record over .500. Amazing.
Today, on the front page of the Toronto Star, Gaston wrote an open letter to the fans of Toronto. He pointed to that first World Series as his most memorable moment in Toronto. It’s ours too, Cito. Thanks for making it happen.