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Blue Jays hail retiring Gaston Add to ...

On the night they came to bid farewell to the manager who helped put major-league baseball on the map in Toronto, the symbols of Cito Gaston's greatest achievements in the game were nowhere to be seen.



The World Series rings that Gaston received after those glorious back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993 for the Toronto Blue Jays were conspicuously missing from the 66-year-old's fingers at Rogers Centre on Wednesday when he managed the final home game of his career.



"I never thought about wearing [them]" Gaston said when asked about the omission. "I just thought I'd come to the ballpark and just be Cito."



And really, that's all it has always been about for the stoic Texan who joined the Blue Jays as their batting instructor in 1982 and became one of the most beloved figures in franchise history.



Gaston will be stepping down at the end of the season, and Wednesday the franchise honoured the man who has worked with the organization as a coach or a manager for 21 seasons.



"It's not too often you get to go out this way," Gaston said before the game against the New York Yankees. "Usually they just tell you don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out. Certainly this organization has always been a part of my heart."



More than 30,000 spectators turned out to pay tribute to Gaston, as did several big shots from the bygone glory days.



Former players Joe Carter, George Bell, Devon White and Pat Hentgen were on the field for a pregame ceremony that delayed the start of the game for more than 30 minutes. Gaston was afforded several standing ovations by the fans with his wife, Lynda, by his side.



"It was a privilege for me to play here for seven years here in Toronto," said Carter, whose home run blow in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies is at the top of every Blue Jays highlight reel. "It was an honour to play seven years for Cito Gaston."



In a video tribute, Gaston also heard taped platitudes from Jack Morris, Hank Aaron, Dusty Baker, Paul Molitor, Bud Selig, Bobby Cox and Roberto Alomar.



Gaston was given a Rolex watch by his players, many of whom donned jet-black pencil-thin fake mustaches in the dugout in homage to the famous facial hair of their leader.



He also received a portrait painting done by Vernon Wells Sr., the father of the centre fielder, and an all-expenses-paid, eight-day golf vacation to any destination in the world.



"To me he was like the best manager that I ever had," Alomar said in an interview this week. "He was a great person and he always respects you as a ballplayer, respects you as a human being. You can't ask for a better person than him.



"Whenever he had to say something to you he'd say it but it would always be behind closed doors. He'd never show you up as a player, he'd never show you up on the field."



Despite his best efforts, Gaston was in tears by the time the celebration was over, his emotions finally getting the best of him.



Gaston thanked the players and the organization for helping him to depart as the franchise leader in games managed and won.



And, in a nice touch, Gaston also praised the Yankees for being a class act and being so patient during a celebration for an opposing manager.



"I've lived in this city for 20 years and I think we have the greatest fans in the world," Gaston said before he took the field. "And the fans that supported this team and gave us a chance to win by supporting this team and the organization has supported myself, the players in that way to give us a chance to win."

 

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