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.
First off, I want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has beared with me in the past couple months while I got settled in my new job. I have recieved support from people on here that is really unbelievable.
Now to the one “BIG” question that I have for the 2009 Blue Jays.
This question has loomed over my head all year. Was the enormously successful ‘second-coming’ of Cito Gaston to manager of Blue Jays a legitimate occurance?
The numbers certainly back it up. Cito and the Blue Jays had one of the best records in Major League Baseball for the months of September and August, not to mention the marked improvement of the club’s performance at the plate. The statistics are great, but what I want to know is: “Did Cito really do this? Or more precisely, can a manager have THAT much influence over a team’s performance?” What do you guys think? I was actually able to get a response from Blue Jay beat writer Jordan Bastian with his thoughts on the situation.
Here is my question, and Jordan’s response, in Mr. Bastian’s featured ‘mailbag’ post:
In your opinion, do you believe the ‘Cito effect’ last season was legit, or just a fluke? I don’t have the numbers with me, but I know the Jays drastically produced a lot more than they did earlier in the year under John Gibbons. Can a manager have THAT much influence over a team? Will that translate into next season with this group?
Jeremy, Hamilton (who is that guy??)
Here are some of the statistics:
Under Gibbons: 35-39 record, .231 with RISP, 49 homers
Under Gaston: 51-37 record, .285 with RISP, 77 homers
The Jays also scored more runs per game and had a higher slugging percentage under Cito, but the on-base percentage went down. Based on the numbers, I think the “Cito effect” was legit. The players all thought it was legit as well. This could be for a number of reasons.
First, a managerial change shows the players that no one is safe — not even a skipper who is a long-time friend of the general manager. That alone could be enough to motivate players to start focusing better and taking things up a level. Beyond just that, though, Gaston and the revamped hitting coaching staff implemented a different philosophy.
It’s been written to death, but Gaston emphasized having a plan at the plate and he also tried to have stability with his lineup. He put players in certain spots and tried to keep them there unless injuries or other circumstances dictated a change. It’s Cito’s view that players are more comfortable when they come to the park knowing they’ll be in the order and where they’re probably going to be hitting.
Will the changes carry over to this season? Obviously, there’s no way to answer that. What I do know is that Gaston is itching to get to work this spring on continuing what he started last year. Rios is a player that Gaston keeps mentioning as one he wants to really work with on his approach at the plate. Gaston is also hoping for more production from the corners.
It’d be hard for Toronto’s offense to be worse than it was last season.
I appreciate the time Jordan took to answer my question. I hope that he is right, that Cito did have that much of an influence on this team! If he did, then that is a cause for optimism going into 2009.
Allow me to share with you some of my early childhood baseball cards. I found these hidden away somewhere. Many of my fondest memories of baseball, come from baseball cards actually. I traded them, I purchased them, I played with them and to this day I still hold onto them. I picked these particular cards because they are all great Blue Jays in my mind.
Click! (for a better view)
You’ll notice many of these cards have the McDonald’s ‘M’ on the corner, this is because they were purchased during a time when McDonald’s had a special promotion for the Jays World Series wins in the early 90’s. Not that it was the healthiest thing to do, but I urged my parents to take me McDonald’s pretty much everyday when those cards were in distribution. McDonald’s always gets you as a kid, it is almost unavoidable. Some of the others are government of Ontario/A&P grocery cards, Topp baseball cards and Donruss I believe. I think we got the A&P cards for free with a large grocery purchase. What an idea! I wish more places gave you free ‘Blue Jay’ baseball cards, because I’d pretty much be there.
Here is a brief description of the players I selected (it is all a part of the baseball card sharing process):
Most of you probably know Joe Carter, he hit the greatest homerun ever hit in Blue Jay history winning the ’93 World Series.
You probably also recognize Fred ‘crimedog’ McGriff, he was an excellent Jay for many years untill he was traded for Carter.
Jack Morris played with Jays for only two years, but had an awesome year in 1992 going 21-6.
Kelly Gruber was a top notch third baseman that made one All-Star game for the Jays. I felt bad that he never got to hit in that game. The closest he came to action was the on-deck circle. He was also my little brother’s favorite player.
A guy you probably wonder: ‘what is this guy doing on this cologue.’ Well, that is Rob Ducey. I decided to put him on because he is Canadian, and a Blue Jay. The guy was probably the only Canadian baseball player that I identified with in those years. He was a seldom used utility player, but did Canada proud regardless.
Dave Stieb‘s no hitter is idolized in the card above. Stieb is arguably the ‘greatest Jays pitcher of all-time.’ I’ve never seen a man adjust himself on television so much in my life. He right up there next to Al Bundy in the adjusting ‘Hall of Fame.’
Tom ‘the terminator’ Henke was my favorite Jay’s closer. The guy was dominant. I’ll always remember him pumping his fist after the Jays won a one-game playoff for the AL East pennet over the Orioles. He also looks amazing similar to my dad. Two great men I would add.
Cito Gaston brought the Jays two World Series in the early 90’s. Were are hoping he translates that magic into the present day.
Pat Tabler was with the Jays for one World Series in 1992. Today he does great color commentary for the Jays in my personal opinion. The guy flat out loves baseball – it is obvious. I personally enjoy hearing him on Blue Jay telecasts.
Devon White is the ‘greatest center-fielder the Blue Jays have ever had.’ Vernon Wells has been a fine player for the team, but Devon White was so important to both the Jay’s World Series teams. His amazing catch in the 1992 World Series showed how the guy just ‘ate up’ numberous doubles and triples in the gap. Sorry Vernon, but you are going to have do some work for that label!
Well, those are some of my cards. It was a lot of fun sharing them with you. I feel like a kid again.
Going with the ‘Anchorman‘ theme of the last couple posts. “I’m Ron Burgandy?”. “I’m telling you Burgandy will read anything you put on that teleprompter!” Still cracks me up.
I too have a strange desire to believe and recite everything I read! A piece of news just popped up about the Manny Ramirez contract dispute with the Dodgers. This blog is not really mean’t to report the news (I’m pretty sure Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated beats me there), so here is a link and a small exerpt from the piece.
DANA POINT, Calif. — The Dodgers’ two year-offer to Manny Ramirez — believed to be for about $45 million — is very unlikely to lead to a quick deal between the sides, or perhaps any deal.
The sides are so far apart that the Blue Jays, Orioles and perhaps the Yankees and other teams likely have moved ahead of the Dodgers in terms of their chances to win the services of the mercurial superstar. Those outside teams aren’t eligible to make offers until Nov. 14, but the Dodgers have thus far failed to get a jump start on the others with a proposal so far below Ramirez’s asking price that Manny is likely thinking more seriously about outside options now.
It looks like ‘Panda Watch‘ is starting to heat up around here! Manny wants the years, and the Dodgers look unwilling to give it to him. Scott Boras, ‘the Manster’s’ agent, will get what his client wants. You can count on that. If Manny is not signed by November 14th, it looks
like my prediction of him being back with the Dodgers is in trouble.
Depending on the market, I think the Jays are in a good position to make a serious play for Manny post-Nov. 14th. The Jays desparately needed hitting last year. This might be our window of opporitunity to get some.
As far as the clubhouse and ‘on field’ ‘shenanigans’ that come with Manny, they didn’t seem to effect the Dodgers on their late push for the NL West last season. The Jays have had to suffer with the likes of a disgruntled Shea Hillenbrand, Ted Lilly, and Frank Thomas in the past. I’m sure that Cito Gaston, a great student of the baseball swing, would respect and welcome the presence of a pure vetern hitter like Manny Ramirez in the clubhouse, especially if he is hitting behind Alex Rios.
THE ‘PANDA WATCH!’ CONTINUES
John Gibbons is gone as Blue Jay’s Manager and I am quite pleased with the move. We obviously had to do something and this is something. Desparate yes, but these are desparate times. This is what you do with a team that cannot make winning a habit.
The move to bring back Cito Gaston will not magically make this team a winner by any means. The team still needs a lot of work and we are constantly being challenged by younger and hungrier teams (i.e. Tampa). Cito will bring a different perspective and mentality, I just hope that he doesn’t force hitters to pull the ball again, (i.e. John Olerud). I always thought Gene Tenace did a great job while he was here, and just maybe he can instill some WHAMMIES into the Blue Jay bats.
The two BIG flaws that I saw with Gibbons were:
1. His laid back attitude and questionable leadership skills. Sure, there is something to be said for a coach that makes the clubhouse a easy place to play and coexist, but that is only a good attitude when you have the talent to back it up. The Jays desparately need someone to come in and instill a serious winning attitude to our roster.
2. The use of the bullpen. We have had some great bullpens over the Gibbons years, guys that have really been solid. How then, do we often end up losing a lot of close games?
What really erked me about Gibbons was the way he would rotate relivers late in close games. Too often, he would pitch relievers inning by inning not considering letting relievers, that are pitching with great stuff, for 2 or maybe 3 innings. It got to the point where he was just looking to find a reliever who would lose the game. He would use Downs and he would give up no runs, same with Carlson, then Wolfe, and then Frasor or somebody would eventually blow it. Frustrating when you look at a guy like Carlson or Downs pitching lights out and you know that Gibbons will always pull them after an inning.
In the end, however, it comes to the players performing on the field. They are not now and likely will continue to underachieve, even under a new. If anything, Cito will be able to point out some of the major flaws with our current and make suggestions for J.P. or whoever. It is obvious that they need the help and Gibbons was just not doing that.