Writing about Earl Weaver‘s coaching strategy made me reflect on a man that is now an afterthought in Toronto, Cito Gaston. Cito’s time with Jays has recently ended, in a managing capacity at least, ushering in the former Red Sox pitching coach, John Farrell,
as the Blue Jays 2011 manager. In my opinion, it was time for a change
as the Jays have been fruitlessly looking for managing talent ever
since Cito was replaced in 1997. They found a well respected man in John Farrell, and he seems up to the challenge.
Cito began in professional baseball playing 11 years (1967-1978) with the Braves, Pirates and Padres.
His playing career peaked when he was 26 years old and hit
.318/29HRs/.364OBP and was selected to the 1970 All Star team. When
you look over his playing stats, you
will see that Gaston was never able to produce like he did in that
year, and for a hitter labelled ‘strike-out prone,’ that quickly landed
Gaston in a part-time role off the bench.
In 1982, same that year I was born coincidently, Cito started as the Blue Jays hitting coach under former Jays managers Bobby Cox, and then Jimmy Williams. It would begin a long, ‘off-and-on‘
relationship (that may still be going on in some capacity). This
wasn’t the last time he’d be the hitting coach. Cito would return to
the position from 1999-2001, two years after he was let go as manager,
then he’d return again to manage from 2008-2010.
broke into managing, the year was 1982. It was the tail-end of Weaver
and the Orioles’ reign over the A.L. East. Weaver’s “save every
precious out,” and “wait for the 3-run-homerun” strategy was still
dominant in the American League, that had only adopted the DH (designated hitter)
in 1973. Gaston was obviously influenced by this coaching strategy in
those early years. Although Gaston was not nearly as involved of a
manager as Weaver, rarely substituting hitters in the game and hardly
ever arguing with the umpire, Cito’s ‘basic coaching strategy,’ in the
game, was definitely influenced by the Weaverian era.
Cito took over as manager in the 1989 season and he would lead the Jays to
four ALCS appearances (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993) and two World Series in 1992 and 1993.
I was only 10-11 years old, but I will look back on those days as the
fondest memories of my life. Cito was new to the managing gig when
team exploded with talent in those years. The tremendous organizational praise starting with Team President Paul Beeston and General Manager Pat Gillick
(both considered among at what they do)
reached Cito with open arms as well, and deservedly so. The people of
Ontario and all over the nation of Blue Jay fans were sitting on a
high, and tasting sweet victory. Something that the Toronto Maple
Leafs had not enjoyed since the 60s, so it was long overdue. Cito was
able to deliver with a great collection of talent, and a top payroll at
the time. What he did for the team cannot be understated, but he had
all pieces in place to make it easier for him.
worked well was the fact that Gaston was the proto-typical ‘players
coach,’ which fit the Blue Jay teams of the early 90s. He was always
laid back, he’d rarely adjust the lineup and hardly ever substitute
guys, even in situations that called for it. His message was always
that he had to establish that trust in his players. “For every
ten times that a substitution worked, he’d show you ten times that it
didn’t,” he’d always say. Cito maintained to be a student of hitting.
He’d always let his hitters swing freely, but would preach that they ‘have a plan‘ established for every at-bat. ‘Have a plan’
became his ‘mantra’ in his comeback to Jays after an 11-year absence.
Cito would have one last ‘hurrah’ with the Jays from 2008-2010 after
leaving a failed and broken team in 1997. The Jays seemed revitalized
upon Cito’s return, still falling short of the playoffs, but able to gather a few respectable MLB season records.
was not all daisies, however, for Gaston with the Blue Jays. His
incredibly laid back attitude, and sometimes inconcievable decisions
left members of the team, the fans and media baffled on many
occasions. He accused respected members of the media of racism in
1997, and he also had the power to force media to face suspension for
questioning his on field tactics. Gaston was criticized by the media
and even his for having a lack communication. There was an apparent
‘mutiny’ reported in the Jays 2008 clubhouse, as players felt like they
were not being communicated with about their role on the team. The
glorious years of 1992 and 1993 would turn into a bitter, cold
and desolate place around Cito. Even though Cito had incredible early
success with the team, many baseball purists in the area could not
respect his coaching style.
If you are a ‘great student’
of the game, and like to strategize, crunch numbers and play matchups?
Gaston would be very tough to watch for you. He seemed to manage by
instinct, and at times, not manage at all. He would always maintain
that it is not what the fans, or the media can see that makes a good
coach. His strength was with the players. And it is hard to disagree
with that, especially considering the Jays offensive output the last
couple years, when nobody thought that they would do anything near to
what they did.
Cito will forever be a key figure in Blue
Jay history. In fact, he might never go away. ha ha. His body of
work with the team is most impressive, as not many managers can boost
two World Series rings. With any long marriage you have to accept, and
live with the other person’s faults. For all his faults, nothing can
replace the years that he contributed to in the early 90s.
It was a flawed marriage, but I’d challenge you to prove one that isn’t?
Even though I would have, I wouldn’t have had the Jays managed any differently. Cito this design is for you.
The modern game of baseball owes a lot to how Earl Weaver managed the Orioles from the late 60s to the mid 80s. For example, Weaver was known for extensively using statistics to adapt his everyday lineup, something that has become a staple in the current game. Saying he ‘extensively used statistics’ is a large overstatement in the current context of sabermetrics, graphs and advanced scouting stats, but Weaver was definitely ahead of his
time in that respect.
What he is most known for is the ‘never waste any of your 27 outs’ and ‘wait for the 3-run homerun’ approach to managing. Weaver did not believe in small ball, he saw it as a pure waste. His style of coaching would have a large impact on the American League for years to come, becoming the standard by which most AL teams have been managed for a number of years. It worked. Only once in 17 seasons did the Orioles finish below .500 under Weaver.
There was actually a time, believe it or not, that the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles were the class of the American League. At this time Weaver’s strategy was challenged by a fast and defensive minded Kansas City team that could run balls down in their large outfield. Weaver admired the Royals for this style of play, but he realized that his team was not built to play like that. His team relied players to merely get on base to compliment his sluggers such as Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Weaver would conclude that every team needs to adapt their lineup to the ballpark in which they played. This idea is extremely prevalent in modern day baseball when look at teams like the 2010 champion San Francisco Giants on one end and the current New York Yankees on the other.
No Weaver post is complete without talking about his on field antics, of course. Weaver held the record for manager ejections with 97, until it was recently broken by Bobby Cox in 2007. It is safe the say that Weaver’s ejections were the most flamboyant in the game. He is a now YouTube sensation, in that respect. He once ripped apart an entire rule book in front of an umpire and forfeited a game in Toronto because he felt the Blue Jay bullpen tarp was unsafe for his left fielder.
As General Manager are gaining more power in terms of how a team is constructed and run. And the ‘wait for the 3-run homerun’ approach fading in popularity. I wonder if a manager like Weaver would still be able to succeed in the game today?
Regardless, the game owes a lot to Earl Weaver, so I made a design honoring Weaver. I tried to make it in similar fashion to the Madden 11 cover.
Weaver On Strategy, Earl Weaver
Baseball Anecdotes, Daniel Orkent and Steve Wulf