Gibbons right man to lead Blue Jays' revival
One of the more impressive things about the Giants winning a World Series was the reaction of other baseball people. They were absolutely thrilled, especially for general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, two good men who had long had the respect of their peers for their competence, decency and relentless work ethic.
I think there could be similar feelings for John Gibbons if the Toronto Blue Jays win the World Series this season. That he is getting a second chance to manage the same team is remarkable enough in itself and a credit to Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos for having the guts to hire someone who probably wasn't going to sweep fans off their feet.
Was Gibbons the best available manager? I have no idea. As Anthopoulos himself said, "Sometimes, it's about hiring the right man and not necessarily the best man." For these Blue Jays, Gibbons feels like the right guy.
Anthopoulos has assembled a dizzying collection of talent, from Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson to Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle. But he's also building a team on the fly.
Managing the Blue Jays in 2013 is not as much about X's and O's as it is about team building, about getting a bunch of guys who haven't known one another for very long to play with a single purpose.
That's why Gibbons feels like such a good fit. To know him is to like him. He's brutally honest. Gibbons is funny, too, and self-effacing. He has seen the game from every angle, both as a player who had to work for everything he got to a workaholic coach to, finally, a manager getting a second chance.
"I never expected to be back here," Gibbons said the other day. He'll joke about how long he'll last this time, because he knows the Blue Jays are in a win-now mode. His job is to keep them playing hard, to manage the personalities and to create the proper environment.
This will be the beginning of Gibbons ' 34th year in professional baseball. He spent parts of 11 seasons in the Minors. He had two cups of coffee in the big leagues -- 50 at-bats in all -- a former first-round pick who didn't make it.
Gibbons was 22 years old when he played his final game in the big leagues. He hung around the Minor Leagues for four more years. The Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies all signed him, but he never got back to the Majors.
And then Gibbons began the road to where he is now. He's a baseball lifer, someone who has seen his share of poorly lit ballparks and long bus rides and dingy motels. What Gibbons discovered is that all his experiences made him the perfect guy to manage young players who have all the same hopes and dreams he once had.
Gibbons was a Minor League instructor for four years, and then he won a championship as a manager in the Appalachian League and another in the Florida State League. He was the Eastern League Manager of the Year one season.
When Gibbons got back to the Majors, it was as a bullpen catcher for the Blue Jays, and then as a first-base coach. Finally, after the 2004 season, he got the chance to manage at the highest level.
When Gibbons was let go midway through his fifth season, he figured that was that. He certainly never figured to fill out the Blue Jays' lineup card again. Gibbons worked for three years as the Royals' bench coach, and then last year, returned to his native San Antonio to manage.
He thought he'd found the right job, one that put him closer to home, closer to his friends and family. To say he was surprised when Anthopoulos phoned after John Farrell's resignation would be an understatement.
The Blue Jays were connected with an assortment of names, none of them John Gibbons. In the beginning, they just talked about the organization they both loved and caught up.
Anthopoulos said the more they talked, the more he got the feeling that he'd found his guy. He saw Gibbons as a terrific communicator, and because of all those years in the game, few players were going to deal with anything he hadn't already dealt with himself.
Gibbons seemed to wear a smile from the first day of Spring Training until the last. He laughed a lot and got to know his players. Gibbons put a positive spin on every negative question, his way of letting his guys know he believed in them.
Expectations are high in Toronto. Fans are pumped. Reporters are pumped. There's pressure in this, but Gibbons knows this. In the end, it's just hardball, and he knows the game as well as anybody.
Gibbons knows people, too, and has the ability to get through to them. In the end, that may be the most important characteristic he brings to the job. Players want to please him.
Yeah, Gibbons is the right guy for the job.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.