Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Cito Gaston is the Man

Cito Gaston is once again proving he is one of the game's premier managers no matter what happens the rest of the season. And the question begs to be asked: What the heck were all those teams thinking when they passed him up for eleven years? The Blue Jays are in first place in a division where their names weren't mentioned in any forecasts before the season. We heard it over and over, there are three top teams in the American League East. Well, there are four. And only one of them has Cito Gaston.

There was a time when the Fan did not appreciate Gaston. Living in New Hampshire at the time, the only games we got on television were CBC (Canadian Broadcast Channel) games, mostly Toronto, but sometimes the Expos. There was a gigantic obstacle in ever warming up to that team in the 90s: Tommy Hutton. Hutton, now one of the Marlins' color analysts, was the smarmiest, homiest announcers in the history of the game. He gushed so much about the Blue Jays during telecasts that it was impossible not to root against them.

But you know what? Those teams were fantastic. You can give Gaston credit, but the front office built the team and they had it all--good pitching, great relievers, speed, power, high on-base percentage. It was an awesome team. Henke and then Duane Ward were dominant closers. The starters were warriors (Hentgen, Stottlemyer, Steib, Morris, Key and throw in a little David Cone, Al Leiter, David Wells). Plus they had Joe Carter, Jon Olerud and Robbie Alomar, all in their primes. Dave Winfield was the DH for the first championship and Paul Molitor the second. Two Hall of Famers.

The year after the second championship, the strike shut baseball down and the Blue Jays never recaptured the magic. Three years later, Gaston was fired. What!? The man won two championships! Surely someone else would have hired him after that, right? Please don't call me Shirley. But no one did. Why?

There were dozens of vacancies in the eleven years since Gaston last managed the Blue Jays. What happened to prevent him from getting jobs? Was he a victim of what Joe Torre went through where he was never given credit for winning with great teams? Was it because of his skin color? What was the deal? He wasn't a better manager than Lee Elia, who had two disastrous chances? He wasn't better than Bruce Kimm or Clint Hurdle or any brother named Lachemann?

It was a grave injustice, whatever the reason was. Somebody should have given him the reins and nobody did. Finally, when the fake war hero, Jon Gibbons lost the team, the Blue Jays undid a lot of wrongs and hired Gaston back. And look what he's done. He took over the Blue Jays last year and finished the season, 51-37 and now he has the Blue Jays flying with an 18-9 record. And that record is with three fifths of his starting rotation on the shelf with injuries.

It still seems hard to imagine that the Blue Jays can keep up this pace. Marco Scutaro isn't going to finish with a .400 OBP like he has now. Aaron Hill isn't going to finish with a 150 OPS+ like he has now. Sooner or later, the starting pitching will show cracks of inexperience. But it doesn't matter. Cito Gaston has shown that he can manage with the best of them.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Excellent post. It IS a mystery why he wasn't hired by anyone. David Wells and Al Leiter were among my favorite lefties to watch. And I think I would have liked Jimmy Key a lot, too, from what I've seen of him.

Shawn Green was actually on one of those championship teams, though he really didn't contribute at all.