Festering player unrest turned to near-mutiny yesterday as the Toronto Blue Jays recoiled from the prospect of another season under manager Cito Gaston after a summer of failure.
"You hate for anything like this to come out, but we'll have to deal with it," said Aaron Hill, the all-star second baseman. "I think there are some things that need to be addressed, yes.
"I think everybody pretty much feels the same, for the most part."
The Blue Jays fell apart in the second half of the season after leading the American League East through mid-May. Centre fielder Vernon Wells said before last night's game against the Baltimore Orioles that morale had never deteriorated this badly in his 11 seasons with the organization. Asked if it would be difficult to play under Gaston again next season, Wells responded: "I can't answer that question."
The centre fielder added: "It's just a matter of trying to keep those issues to a minimum and try to keep them from boiling over. Obviously, unfortunately it's gotten to the point where things have kind of boiled over."
One team insider told The Globe and Mail: "There's an extreme negative feeling and anger in that locker room among the players." Added another source who requested anonymity: "It's extremely widespread, it's pretty much everybody. It's team-wide."
The players are expected to express their concerns face-to-face with Jays interim CEO Paul Beeston in a meeting prior to their game tonight. Beeston was scheduled to travel here for his traditional season-ending address all along, but now the tone of the gathering will intensify with the news leaking out yesterday about the players' unrest with Gaston.
Reports yesterday indicated that players are perturbed with the 65-year-old Gaston's alleged negative attitude, passive managerial style, lack of communication with players, and split within the coaching ranks. The stories staggered Gaston. The manager of the club when it won consecutive World Series in 1992-93, he returned last year to take over from the fired John Gibbons.
"I've treated everybody with respect, so I'm not sure what their bitch is," said Gaston, who despite the report remained in good spirits and later kibitzed with Hill behind the cage during batting practice.
"I'd really like to know what I need to change," Gaston added, smiling. "I'd like to hear it myself."
The player unrest also stunned Beeston.
"In the past I always knew what players thought of managers and all that stuff - their strengths, weaknesses and their ability to laugh at them and their ability to be upset with them," he said. "But I haven't heard any of that this year. And no one's talked to [general manager]J.P. [Ricciardi]about it either."
The longest serving Toronto players, Wells and Roy Halladay, took different approaches in dealing with the controversy before the Jays' game last night.
Halladay said: "Any concerns that I have will be expressed to the right people."
Wells, Toronto's highest-paid player, remarked that each team goes through troubled times in a season, but with the Jays the difficulties with Gaston only worsened.
Jeff Blair. Page 2
Wells met with Gaston for one-on-one talks during the season, but last night did not blame the manager for his disappointing performance at the plate.
"I've sucked, period," said Wells, hitting .265 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs before last night's game against the Orioles. "It's not his fault, it's not anybody's fault. It's my fault.
"This is not about winning and losing. This is about family issues. Obviously, if something comes out and we've won nine out of our last 10 games, it's not about the winning and losing."
First baseman Lyle Overbay is among those who wants Gaston to improve his communication skills. Overbay, who had expected to be a full-time player, found himself platooned with Kevin Millar as the season wore on.
"More than anything, I want to try to figure out what to expect for next year," Overbay said. "It kind of caught me off-guard a little bit when I wasn't playing. ... [Gaston]never really said a lot. As we were winning, he was kind of sitting on the back burner, watching us play good."
Gaston and his coaching staff are under contract until the end of 2010. Hill remarked that any relationship can be mended, but there needs to be "some give and take" from both sides. Wells wasn't so sure.
"I don't know who's going to be here next year," Wells said. "I don't know what moves are going to be made. It all boils down to us playing better on the field. It's the 25 guys that are willing and committed to trying to get better and kind of leaving the extracurricular activities to the side and try to concentrate on winning ball games."
As to the division within the coaching staff, on one side there are Gaston and his trusted lieutenants, hitting coach Gene Tenace and third-base coach Nick Leyva. On the other side are coaches inherited from the previous regime - pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, bullpen coach Bruce Walton and bench coach Brian Butterfield. Gaston is not often seen with Arnsberg in the dugout.
"As far as coaches, I have a couple of coaches who are loners," Gaston said. "They go their own way. They are always invited to come out and have dinner. If they want to come, they can come. If they don't want to come, that's fine.
"I don't think [anybody]wants to hang out with their boss, do they?"
NOTES With the players versus manager Cito Gaston controversy hovering over the club, the Toronto Blue Jays saw their six-game win streak halted by the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays dropped a 13-7 rain-delayed decision. They were down 4-0 early, but a three-run homer Edwin Encarnacion and a solo shot from Randy Ruiz tied the game in the fourth inning. However, they trailed 13-4 in the bottom of the eighth when the game was delayed by rain. ... Toronto starting pitcher David Purcey was knocked for seven earned runs in 32/3 innings. ... Adam Lind did not play for the second game in a row after taking a pitch off the right elbow from Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon after Lind slammed three homers on Tuesday.
Next Toronto v. Baltimore, tonight 7 p.m.
Probable pitchers RHP Scott Richmond (8-10) v. LHP Mark Hendrickson (5-5)
TV Rogers Sportsnet.