Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Will Gaston's Legacy Be?

While watching the Blue Jays pummel Vazquez, thoughts began to wander since it was such a lopsided game anyway. In between thoughts of why the Yankees would make the same mistake in acquiring Vazquez for the second time, thoughts of Cito Gaston popped up again and again. For those of you unaware, Gaston is retiring as manager after this season and will become a consultant. Of course, Gaston being a paid consultant is similar to U.S. presidents sending Jimmy Carter to Uruguay to talk about crop rotation. It's a cushy landing for a guy who has held the reins and won't be holding them anymore. Part of those thoughts on Gaston centered on what his legacy would be.

Gaston's managerial career certainly started with a bang. His Blue Jay teams of 1989 to 1993 came in first place four of those five years. His teams won two World Series. Much like Joe Torre's Yankees, do you give Gaston full credit for that run or was the groundwork paved by Bobby Cox and Jimmy Williams? Certainly 1996 was as much Buck Showalter's Yankees as they were Torre's. But then again, only 21 managers in history have won two World Series. Thirteen of those are in the Hall of Fame and three others are still managing (Torre, Francona and LaRussa).

For those who ponder such things, Torre's record was tarnished by the fact that he had no success before he came to the Yankees. After his previous stint, nobody would hire him and he was a broadcaster. It was only after coming to the Yankees did Torre's career burn brightly. For his first two years in Los Angeles, that success held up. Gaston is just the opposite. His success was immediate and his problem is what came after it. Since 1992, Gaston's second World Series victory, his teams have a record of 464-521. He is going out nicely this year with a team that was expected to be terrible that ended up being the fourth best team in the American League.. But truly, his record since his Series victories is a problem.

Another problem for Gaston is his tenure. He hasn't managed much more than 1700 (1726 to be exact) games. There are a lot of managers that have more wins than Gaston has games managed. Gaston is 65th all time in managerial wins. That's a healthy number until you note the 64th place guy. His name is Jimmy Williams, who won 20 more games than Gaston and has a better lifetime winning percentage. How's that for a kick in the pants? Gaston's winning percentage is .516, which is 101st all time. He's tied with Buck Showalter and Bob Lemon. That's pretty good company.

One of the things the Fan likes to do to judge managers is to look at the team's Pythagorean won-loss figures.The Pythagorean won-loss record looks at the run differential for the team (the amount of runs given up versus the amount of runs scored). Smarter heads than this one look at the run differential and determine in a perfect world how many games a team should have won.

One of the things that was right about Joe Torre's book was that the Yankees out performed their run differential (and their talent by a wide margin from 2001 through 2007. Their last really great team was 2000. In reality, the Fan doesn't know whether this figure is a fair way to rate managers. But we don't have much else to go by besides actual wins and losses. Gaston's Pythagorean numbers are troubling too and mirror his actual won-loss record. Throwing out the partial years Gaston managed (because it's impossible to assign the statistic when two different guys manage a team, Gaston's teams finished this way:  -6, +3, +5, +4, -1, -4, -3, -1, -9 and +2. If you add all those up, you'd find that for his career, Gaston has a -10 total in the Pythagorean ratio. His early teams outplayed their differential and most of his later teams underplayed their differential.

Some have mentioned that Gaston should get into the Hall of Fame because he was the first African-American to win a World Series as manager. And on the surface of things, that makes sense. It was a big milestone at the time. The difficulty though is assigning how much that is worth. Is it a Hall of Fame argument or a trivia question? The Fan thinks it lies somewhere in between. It was important. But not enough to simply buy a pass to the Hall of Fame.

In the end, in this writer's judgement, Gaston falls short of HOF credentials. He should be fondly remembered as a classy and solid manager that took the Blue Jays to nirvana twice. That should be a wonderful memory. In his last year, he should be remembered as the guy who allowed his young pitchers to grow up on the major league mound, which is a legacy that should last quite a few years. The Fan can't quite give him a pass at batting Snider at lead off though. That one was just plain strange. But he's also the guy that penciled Jose Bautista's name in the line up every day when that had never happened before in Bautista's career. That is a wonderful legacy too.

In the end, Cito Gaston was not a Hall of Fame manager. But he was a very good one.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

I don't think he's a HOF manager, but his legacy is his titles as an African-American; hustle; heart; and pride. Nothing to be ashamed of, certainly. Was a pleasure.

Josh Borenstein said...

Not many managers can say they won two in a row.