So John Gibbons is back as the Blue Jays field boss, with a whole whack of new players and a grand total of three (or is it four?) players remaining from his previous run as Toronto manager in the 2004-08 era.
Because the guy was around before — and for quite a while — it seems like we should know pretty much everything there is to know about him. But we don’t. Here are some things you probably don’t know about Gibbons.
1. This is my favourite John Gibbons story and I just read it for the first time today on a sports forum thread. Here’s what a Blue Jays fan with the handle JetLi had to say about Gibbons during his last stint as manager: “I was at the Jays shop once, hours before the game, and I was just looking around. Gibbons walks in and just says “Everyone in line, purchases on me”. Ran up a $15,000 tab. I know, I know, what’s $15K to a guy making manager money. He made $500K that year, so I think it was pretty substantial nice guy.”
2. Everybody makes a big deal out of Gibbons’ run-ins with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly in 2006. Unbelievably, those confrontations somehow got Gibbons on a Bleacher Report list of “15 Most Controversial Managers in MLB History.” Really? Right up there with Billy Martin, Leo Durocher, Earl Weaver, Pete Rose and Ozzie Guillen? I don’t think so, baby. Not even close. For starters, Hillenbrand (for writing shit about his team on a clubhouse message board) and Lilly (for refusing to hand over the ball to Gibbons for a pitching change) both deserved to be called out by their boss — and probably deserved a good thumping too.
(Strangely, Blue Jays coach Don Wakamatsu is also on that bizarre list because of one or two relatively minor incidents during his time as Seattle’s field manager in 2009-10. Rightly or wrongly, Wakamatsu is blamed for causing Ken Griffey Jr. to decide to retire in 2010. But, really, that just doesn’t put you on any list — except this one — of MLB’s 15 most controversial managers. A list that doesn’t include Ty Cobb, I might add.)
Now here’s the part you probably don’t know. Back in July, San Diego Padres VP Randy Smith had this to say on a MLB blog about the Padres hiring Gibbons to manage their AA farm team in Gibbons’ home town of San Antonio, Texas: “Everyone we talked to gave nothing put positive reviews” — including positive feedback from one of the players Gibbons scuffled with while in Toronto. Smith declined to provide a name, but said the player “was very complimentary” of Gibbons. Smith commented, “A little fire and passion is not a bad thing. We think we got the right man for the job.”
3. And speaking of the San Antonio Missions, if John Gibbons is such a good manager, how come he was only able to lead the Missions to a sixth place finish in the eight-team AA Texas League this past season? Simple. Injuries — not to the Missions, but to the team’s parent club, the San Diego Padres. You think Toronto was injury-bitten? San Diego was waaaaay worse, with a pitching staff just as decimated as the Blue Jays and far more major league fielders down for the count. Just take a look at this injury chart compiled by CBS Sports.
The Padres injury plague hit early and often. As a result, Gibbons’ AA team was stripped of talent with players either moving up to fill gaps in the AAA farm club or leapfrogging all the way to the big club.
Here’s what Gibbons had to say in that same MLB blog from which the earlier Randy Smith quote is taken:
Roberto: During the first-half of the Missions’ season many of your best prospects have been called up because of excellent play and the San Diego Padres’ MLB-leading disabled list. Do you think this may have cost your team the first-half?
John Gibbons: You know, that’s the name of the game: to get these guys to the Big Leagues. Winning’s one thing, but also a lot of these guys are so young that we can’t lose sight of developing. The ultimate goal is to harness their skills so when they get to the big leagues they’re good all-around solid players. So we got to keep that in perspective.
A number of guys have moved up from this ball club this year, and by that happening it has taken its toll on the team here. But the bottom line is our goal of getting these guys out of here up to the next level and eventually on to the big league team.
4. Everybody knows that John Gibbons was once roommates with J.P. Ricciardi when they were coming up through the New York Mets minor league organization in the 1980s. That certainly had something to do with the fact Gibbons got the Jays managerial post first time around. And it says something that Gibbons and Ricciardi remained friends even after Ricciardi fired him in 2008. A lot of people also know that Ricciardi and Gibbons both bombed out as major league players for the Mets.
But here’s the rest of the story. J.P. Ricciardi was signed by the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1980. But in that 1980 entry draft, the Mets (because they had two compensation picks from other teams) were able to draft three first-round players. They picked Darryl Strawberry No. 1, then outfielder Billy Beane No. 23 and catcher John Gibbons No. 24. (Blue Jays had the No. 2 pick that year and drafted …. Garry Harris. Garry Who? Never mind.)
Now here’s the really surprising thing: Of the three players the Mets drafted in the first round, Darryl Strawberry was not considered the surest bet to make the majors. Strawberry was assessed as having great raw talent but in need of much work and refinement in the minors. Billy Beane was considered the best bet — a nearly-ready-for-prime-time player with tremendous upside. But it was also thought that Beane was going to choose to go to Stanford University instead of signing a baseball contract, so he was still around when the Mets got to pick again. And then they picked again immediately and took John Gibbons (who was also considered closer to being big-league-ready than Strawberry).
Teammates Ricciardi and Beane
In the minors, Billy Beane and John Gibbons were roommates first, then Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi were roommates … before they all gave their dreams of being big-league players. Billy Beane got into scouting, then rose quickly through the Oakland A’s front office, becoming the GM best known for MoneyBall. Ricciardi joined Beane in the A’s front office before jumping over to become the Blue Jays GM — where he hired old pal John Gibbons, who had been toiling (with a great deal of success, I might add) as a coach and manager in the Mets’ minor-league system.
Just to make this incestuous circle a little tighter, guess who was picked No. 212 in that same 1980 entry draft? None other than John Farrell, the previous Jays manager whose departure to the Boston Red Sox opened the door for Gibbons’ return to the Blue Jays. Farrell chose not to sign with the A’s in 1980 and opted to play university ball before being drafted by Cleveland in the 1984 draft.
By the way, Kelly Gruber was drafted No. 10 by the Cleveland Indians (as a shortstop) in that same 1980 class. and Terry Francona was drafted No. 22 by the Expos. Years later, when they were both playing for the Cleveland Indians, Francona and Farrell became pals. So when Francona became manager of the Boston Red Sox, he hired Farrell as his pitching coach.
And to prove there are no sure things in baseball, the Blues Jays (with their No. 2 pick) could have also taken any of the following players in that 1980 draft:
Darnell Coles (6), Dennis Rasmussen (17), Tim Teufel (38), Dan Plesac (41), Joe Hesketh (50), Doug Drabek (88) or Craig Lefferts (219).
5. This one’s a little obtuse, but stick with me. Everyone knows John Gibbons is nicknamed “Gibby” and sometimes “Gibber.” But a lesser known Gibbons nickname is “Boomhauer” — because his fast, run-on Texas drawl has a lot in common with the almost unintelligible slurred speech of the Boomhauer character on the long-running King of the Hill animated TV series. What few people know is that the Boomhauer character’s speech was fluent (and clear) — when he spoke in French.
So when a reporter asked a question in French during the Anthopoulos-Gibbons press conference Tuesday morning, it’s no surprise that Alex Anthopoulos looked at John Gibbons and said, “Do you want to field this one?”
But Gibbons is no Boomhauer, despite the nickname. “I can barely get by in English,” he replied in declining the offer.