Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons delivered the lineups to home plate before Wednesday afternoon’s game.
It was an opportunity for the crowd to salute him. It is a measure of Gibbons’s universal esteem in the game that the umpires also applauded as he approached and opposing manager A.J. Hinch came out to embrace him.
This was the nicest guy in the game getting his due.
Gibbons tipped a cap, rolled back into the dugout and that’s that. The second winningest managerial career in Jays’ history is over.
Baseball’s worst kept bit of news was finally admitted to on Wednesday. Gibbons’s tenure in Toronto will end with the season in a few days time. The one year remaining on his contract will be honoured.
It is possible that he may return in some unspecified role, but that sounds more like ambassadorial flag waving at spring training rather than a real job.
Why did this happen?
Through half an hour of news-conference jibber jabber, that wasn’t made clear.
General manager Ross Atkins told a few, nice Gibby stories and gushed about Gibbons’s “experience.”
He tried explaining the club’s rationale, but aside from saying the words “change” and “respectful” a lot, no coherent reason was offered.
“A new voice and a new approach” was the closest we got. What that means and who that voice might be was pushed off to some future confab. The early money is on former Cleveland manager, Eric Wedge, who is now a consultant in the Jays organization.
Gibbons seemed similarly confused as to why he was leaving. He did say that he had agreed to leave.
“It’s probably time for change,” Gibbons said, then immediately contradicted himself. “Actually, I think I’m the perfect guy for a rebuild, but I don’t know if I have the energy.”
So put the corporate translator – Gibbons would have stayed, but Atkins & co. wanted their own guy in the role. They’ve spent months trying to figure out how to gently wedge a beloved local fixture out of the job. Fair enough. Why not just say that?
But like everything this club does, an unavoidable truth must come padded in 10 feet of annoying gibberish.
Everyone connected to the team has known since August that Gibbons was gone. Many of them heard it from Gibbons in a nudge-nudge wink-wink way, since he is incapable of telling a lie.
But asked when the team had decided to move on, Atkins said “this weekend.”
I’m sure that’s technically true, in the “send a memo” sense. Since people have been writing Gibbons obits for several weeks, however, it will sound to the wider public like a preposterous dodge.
Why not just say, “For a while now. We just had to work out the details”?
Now that we are going back to Year Zero on Toronto baseball, this is the first thing that needs to be fixed.
This organization is suffused with a bizarre, twitchy paranoia when it comes to calling things by their proper names.
The way Gibbons’s exit was handled is typical. A month ago, a rumour floated through credible outlets that Gibbons would be fired within days. After waiting a bit, Atkins denied that would happen.
That may not be a trial balloon launched from the roof of Rogers HQ, but it sure as hell sounds like one. Gibbons sought reassurances from Atkins that management had not been the source of the rumour and got them.
But, as you can imagine, he was not best pleased.
A few days later, the New York Post proposed the idea that Jays team president Mark Shapiro was among the candidates to become president of the Mets.
Again, another denial, though not a denial denial. Instead it was the sort of denial tailored so that no one could be later accused of playing loose with the truth.
“I’m not going to comment on [the report] specifically except to say I can comment on how I feel about being here,” Shapiro said.
Try inserting that one into your own daily life: “Officer, I’m not going to comment on my car being upside-down in the ditch except to say I can comment on how incredibly few wine spritzers I’ve had.”
What is the point of having an amazing word like, “No,” if no one’s going to use it?
There isn’t necessarily anything nefarious happening at the Jays, but it almost always sounds like there is.
It’s one thing to want to keep your information tight. The previous regime did that well.
It’s another to want all your information disseminated precisely on your own terms, in the tone of your choosing and without any backtalk. That never happens, and we’ve seen the results of trying.
The Jays had the perfect example of how to deliver their public messaging on the payroll: John Gibbons.
Plainspoken, willing to put his hand up when he’d made a mistake, but entirely unapologetic most of the time. Gibbons was a great shrugger of his shoulders, which really does explain most things in baseball.
And it worked – not just on the field, but in the blackened hearts of fans who had given up on this team 10 years ago. Eventually, every one of them fell in love with Gibbons.
Here is the important part. They didn’t love him because he is a baseball savant and never got things wrong. They loved him because he wasn’t and did, and never tried to pretend he was in total control.
If they want to give Gibbons a postmanagerial ambassadorial role, I would suggest chief spokesperson.
He was in fine form at the end, peppering his farewell address with zingers – “Winning cures a lot of things and fools a lot of people”; “Coaches do all the work. Managers do this … [waving at the room of reporters] … so, nothing really”; “They put a lot of money in my pocket.”
He only got serious right at the end as he addressed the wretches in the news media.
“I can’t thank you guys enough,” Gibbons said. “We’ll be friends forever.”
And then he seemed to choke up a bit.
I looked over at the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno. She was crying. I made a note of her crying, which prompted her to accuse me of crying. Then a bunch of media people began pointing fingers at each other on the crying front.
All in all, not a good day for the professional detachment of the Fourth Estate, but a great day to be a sportswriter.
We weren’t the only ones who loved Gibbons.
As he left the room, dozens of ushers, security staff and vendors lining the industrial hallway that rings the Rogers Centre broke into spontaneous applause. They cheered Gibbons – now looking very bashful – all the way back into the clubhouse.
I’ve never before seen them do that for a player. They wouldn’t dare presume.
But Gibbons was one of them, and they all felt it.
You cannot manufacture that quality, you can’t stage manage it and the Jays are about to find out that it’s just about impossible to hire it.