The Canadian Press
TORONTO–John Gibbons got a chance to say goodbye yesterday at Rogers Centre as the Toronto Blue Jays made the long-expected announcement that the longtime manager would not return for the 2019 season.
General manager Ross Atkins made it official at an afternoon news conference before the team closed out its home schedule with a 3-1 win over the Houston Astros.
“Ultimately we decided it was time for a change, time for a new voice,” Atkins said.
“And because of the man that ‘Gibby’ is, we are here today respectfully and we’re grateful for that,” he added.
“He deserves that, there’s no doubt.”
Gibbons, who is signed through 2019, joined Atkins at the dais in a packed media availability room. In classic Gibbons form, the popular skipper got some laughs right out of the gate.
“We kept that secret pretty good, didn’t we?” Gibbons said as he smiled at Atkins.
Toronto is in full rebuilding mode and it could be a couple seasons–at least–before the team may be ready to contend again in the American League East.
Gibbons’ job security was in question earlier this summer as the team struggled and rumours circulated that the club was contemplating a managerial change.
But the Jays announced in August that Gibbons would finish the season, which concludes Sunday with the finale of a three-game road series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
There was no immediate word on who might take over next year.
“It’s just one of those things that happen in baseball,” Gibbons reasoned. “It’s not surprising, it’s pretty common.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best for both sides that we go in a different direction,” he noted.
“So that’s where we’re at today.”
Gibbons, 56, first managed the Jays from August, 2004 to June, 2008. He was rehired in November, 2012 and guided the team back to the playoffs in 2015–ending the franchise’s 22-year post-season drought.
“To do that when you are the manager of the team, since that is the ultimate goal, that’s what stands out,” Gibbons said.
“But I’ve had so many good memories of this place in good times and bad.”
Toronto returned to the American League Championship Series in 2016 and Gibbons was rewarded in early 2017 with a contract extension that included a club option for 2020.
But the Jays missed the playoffs last season and played below expectations again this year.
“The storm clouds were gathering,” Gibbons said. “There’s no doubt.”
The Jays became sellers over the summer, shipping out key players like Josh Donaldson and J.A. Happ while turning their focus to younger players.
Gibbons is in second place on the team’s all-time list for managerial victories with 792. Cito Gaston is the all-time leader with 892.
“I’ve been here a long time and I agree it’s probably time for a change,” Gibbons said.
“We’re rebuilding here and actually I think I’m the perfect guy for a rebuild,” he added. “But I don’t know if I have the energy necessarily.”
The crowd let out a big cheer when Gibbons strolled to home plate with his lineup card before the start of yesterday’s late-afternoon game.
With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” playing on the stadium speakers, Gibbons shook hands with the umpires and hugged Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch.
Gibbons acknowledged the ovation by waving his hat to the crowd as he returned to the dugout.
He was given a standing ovation each time he made a pitching change and received another after congratulating his players at the end of the game.
A “Thank You Gibby” message appeared on the scoreboard and closer Ken Giles gave Gibbons the game ball.
Centre-fielder Kevin Pillar even gave the skipper a Gatorade shower.
“There’s a lot of things he’s done for a lot of us in this room,” Pillar said.
“It’s nice to kind of put him at the front of it for once.”
Such is Gibbons’ popularity in Toronto that Mayor John Tory declared Sept. 26, 2018 to be “John Gibbons Day,” a level of pageantry rarely afforded to outgoing head coaches or managers, particularly at the close of a dismal season.
Despite his affable personality, Gibbons wasn’t afraid to challenge players–stars and journeymen alike–over his tenure.
He always was considered a player’s manager and had the respect of the locker-room.
“He makes a group of guys come together for the same purpose,” Philadelphia outfielder and former Jays’ slugger Jose Bautista said before the Phillies’ game in Colorado.
“He makes everyone pull on the rope in the same direction.”
Gibbons, from San Antonio, Tex., said he would like to continue managing in the future but if a position is not available elsewhere, he still would like to stay involved in the game.
His 2019 salary is guaranteed and it’s possible he could continue to work for the Jays in a different capacity.
Gibbons has a career record of 792-787 as a big-league manager.
“It’s all about winning,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.
“Sometimes it can be a long road to get there.
“But when you don’t win, change happens,” he added. “That’s just the way it goes.”