TORONTO — Entering the Rogers Centre last night, I was greeted by a young man at security similar to every other day I have come to the ballpark. Except today the conversation went in a different direction.
Him: “It will never be the same.”
Me: “You talking about John Gibbons?”
Him: “Yes, it will be different around here. I will miss hearing his boots coming down the hall, then hearing his loud voice.”
The man that has managed the second most games in Blue Jays history took to the field of the Rogers Centre for the last time on Wednesday. As one reporter noted prior to the game, as bad as the team has performed on the field, John Gibbons popularity with fans has somehow increased. “They have taken to me a little bit eh?” said Gibbons at the press conference prior to the game.
The rounds of applause he received from employees of the club as he walked to and from the press conference was touching. Gibbons smiled and addressed each group he passed, stopping to shake the hands of some. It was a classy gesture from a classy man.
The decision might have been finalized over the past weekend, but there have been discussions about the manager’s future, between Gibbons and Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, over the last several months. And after two back to back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016, the last two seasons have seen the Blue Jays post a record of 148 – 173. With a pending shift in roster construction coming as well, the writing was on the wall.
The decision to make the announcement yesterday was “ultimately who he is as a man and our respect for him,’ said Ross Atkins. Gibbons, for his part, seemed to take the decision to part ways rather well.
“I will be a Blue Jay for life. I get how this business works. We were a pretty good team for a couple of years, but things start sliding and that is how it goes. I have been here a long time and I agree there is time for a change” said Gibbons.
Many have stated that Gibbons is more of a veteran’s manager and the Blue Jays would benefit from more of an instructor, especially considering the rebuild and upcoming youth movement. However, the 56-year old Texan begs to differ. “I am a perfect guy for a rebuild, but I am not sure if I have the energy. Heard the argument against and I don’t buy it.”
He also understands the other side of the argument. “You bring in a lot of young kids and some of them have a chance to be really good. Probably best to bring in a guy that can last a while with those guys.”
During the press conference Atkins shared a story about the positive impact Gibbons had with rookie infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. It was at a time he was really struggling physically, mentally and performance wise, and Gibbons pulled him aside on the bench. He told him “remember to smile and remember to enjoy this”.
“It is the experience of when and how to say those things that is pretty powerful,” stated Atkins on Gibbons strong interpersonal skills.
Atkins even revealed a personal moment he shared with Gibbons. It happened during the GM’s first spring training when they were flying from Florida to Montreal. He approached Atkins and uttered this sage advice “These are big jobs, there are a lot of expectations, but remember to have fun and remember to enjoy the ride.”
It is considered by many this was a management decision, but that was not clearly stated at the press conference. In the end both parties somewhat agreed it was time to part ways. A manager hired by the previous regime, Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, is thankful for the opportunity that the current management provided him.
“I thought I was gone then (2016), I can’t thank him enough for keeping me around, that doesn’t always happen it is quite unusual,” shared Gibbons.
What happens with the rest of Gibbons coaching staff will be most likely determined over the weekend, when Atkins meets with each of them. However, it is most common that a general manager will let the new manager choose their coaches.
“Coaches do all the work. They are all loyal guys and team guys” said Gibbons. “Something happens in my position it usually affects some one else.”
Obviously, the greatest highlight for Gibbons was the 2015 season that saw Toronto break a 22-year playoff drought. A moment he said every manager savors.
“Big league sports is all about winning. Sometimes it takes a long road to get there. In 2015 it all came together we became relevant in baseball. Just to be part of that, because we heard it every year, when is the team going to do it. It finally happened, and it happened in a big way, for half that season we were kind of just hanging around and then we exploded.”
But his greatest memories are moments shared with the fans both at the Rogers Centre and on the road trips to places like Seattle. “There are passionate people up here, they are fair people and we are treated great. If you do well they take care of you pretty good.”
Well Wednesday night they took care of John Gibbons pretty well. The crowd of just over 22,000 came with their “Gibby the Best” signs, memorabilia, and most importantly adoration for the 11-year manager. From multiple standing ovations when he came on the field to the Gatorade shower at the post-game interview – it was Gibby’s day.
“I have never been into that; it kind of embarrasses me, but it was different today,” said Gibbons post game. “I’ve been here a long time. I’ve had some great times, and I’ve had some tough times. It’s kind of sad. It’s sad in a way. But it brought back a lot of good memories.”
But true to Gibbons’ humble nature, he said after the game that he was happier for Jon Berti — who finally made the big leagues at 28 and collected his first hit — than he was for himself. Always the “player’s manager,” Gibbons understood and was appreciated by his players.
“Letting you go out there and play. If you make mistakes you learn from it. He helps you learn from it, instead of just getting on you,” said right fielder Randal Grichuk, who hit a two-run home run in the 4-1 Blue Jays win. “He jokes around and keeps things light. He makes you humble with the game, but keeps it light.”
“A person I have grown very fond of,” said longest serving Blue Jay Kevin Pillar of the soon-to-be-former manager. “He is a welcoming human being and he encourages people that come up for the first time”.
So what is next for Gibbons? He doesn’t want to retire and he said he would love to manage again. He even said, with a smile, those “special assignment jobs friends have always sound good to [him].” Whatever he does, we can only wish him the best. The self-proclaimed honest, straight shooting guy with integrity will be greatly missed by many in the Blue Jays organization and outside.
The manager can be changed, but John Gibbons the man, is irreplaceable.
Lead Photo Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports