Heart of the Blue Jays

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man;

That he didn’t, didn’t already have.

— AMERICA (Dewey Bunnell) 1974.

TORONTO (Oct. 31) — Many believe the Toronto Blue Jays lost their brain when general manager Alex Anthopoulos turned down a contract extension on Thursday. And, just as many are certain the club will lose its heart whenever field manager John Gibbons is replaced by the regime of incoming president Mark Shapiro. The brain and the heart. Fairly essential components, wouldn’t you agree?

As much as Anthopoulos has been lionized and slightly overrated by fans and media, so has Gibbons been underrated. His return to the Blue Jays in November 2012 was hardly a Mike Babcock event — greeted incredulously by those that follow baseball in our city and across North America. So, too, in Montreal, and among hockey observers, was the second–coming of Michel Therrien as coach of the Canadiens. In each case, the club had inexplicably appointed a retread. Both, you may have recognized, are doing quite well.

In one season with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2007–08), Therrien proved that having the best player on Earth can vault a coach into the Stanley Cup final. He lost to Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings… and had been replaced with Dan Bylsma by the time Sidney Crosby and Co. got it right the following spring. Today, Therrien coaches Carey Price — the reigning MVP of the National Hockey League. His current team in Montreal became the first ever to win nine games in regulation time at the start of a season and it resides, today, atop the overall standings with a 10–2–0 mark for 20 points. Not bad for a retread.

Our own has–been — boorishly referred to as “Waddlin’ John” by social media screwballs — confirmed that he, too, can prosper amid the elite. Perhaps any baseball manager would flourish when presented with Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Chris Colabello, Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna, Justin Smoak, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere in the course of a calendar year; such players added by Anthopoulos since last November. But, perhaps not. As a professional sports team becomes engorged with ego, it grows into something complex. A manager (or coach) has to assuage the delicate temperament of a clubhouse or dressing room. Not everyone can master the chore. John Gibbons proved rather adept while his team evolved from mediocre to marvelous between the end of July and the third week of October.

A generation ago, Cito Gaston pioneered such wizardry on behalf of the ball club.

Aug 17, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) smiles prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsIt is therefore no coincidence, in my view, that Gaston and Gibbons are the only managers to guide the Blue Jays beyond one round of playoff competition. As Ned Yost has so expertly accomplished in Kansas City, providing an elite group of athletes with a winnable environment is every–bit as important as strategic facility. Each time Yost, the Royals’ manager, appears in a pre–taped dugout interview with Joe Buck of FOX Sports, he repeats his mantra: “I just let ’em play.” The line has become so familiar that Buck and Yost offered it in unison during Friday night’s World Series Game 3 telecast. While working the American League Championship Series, Buck — arguably the most knowledgeable and perceptive play–caller in sports broadcasting history — grew enamored of Gibbons. “This man is an open book and his players love him.”

And, it’s the reason the Blue Jays will lose their heart when Mark Shapiro (or his appointee) sends Gibbons packing. It is understandable that Shapiro (or his appointee) may want to hire his own field manager, and whoever that person is could well take the Blue Jays a step farther than their 2015 journey. But, the new regime won’t find a more genuine individual than Gibbons; a more committed soldier, or likely one so adroit at combining baseball savvy with “people” skill.

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man because he knew the Jack Haley character was bursting with heart.

The Blue Jays will lose many strong beats in the absence of John Gibbons.


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