On September 26th, 2018, the Toronto Blue Jays confirmed what fans had suspected for months – that John Gibbons would not be returning to manage the team in 2018.
It wasn’t the first time John Gibbons had heard those words, or a variation of them. In mid-2008, he was fired mid-season after a disappointing start to the campaign.
Granted, it was optimistic to expect a contending team from the 2008 roster, but tickets were down and the team was in a slump, so someone had to be the scapegoat. Following that, Cito Gaston disappointed Jays fans from mid-2008 to the end of 2010. John Farrell (who, some would argue, didn’t really want to be the Blue Jays manager at all, instead taking the job as a stepping stone towards an eventual Red Sox managerial job) didn’t fare much better in his two years.
John Gibbons made his triumphant (and extremely surprising) return in a press conference prior to the 2013 season. Prior to hiring him, it was reported by the Toronto Sun that then-general manager Alex Anthopoulos was ‘looking for someone he could work with, someone his staff could work with, someone who was good for the city, good for the whole country.” That seems like Gibbons now, but back in 2013, it wasn’t as obvious a connection.
He was well-liked behind the scenes, but fans remembered a .500 manager (305-305) that got into public disputes with infielder Shea Hillenbrand and pitcher Ted Lilly, while also benching Frank Thomas in early 2008, angering the future Hall of Famer in a move that led to Thomas’ release.
Publicly, John Gibbons was a manager that fans were okay with leaving in the past.
Gibbons leaving the Blue Jays in 2018 has a distinctly different feel than Gibbons’ prior dismissal. Firstly, though there was a widely rumoured feeling that the Jays front office post-Anthopoulos was looking for a new manager from the start of the 2018 season, general manager Ross Atkins let Gibbons manage the complete season, only announcing his departure with one home game left so fans could honour the 56-year old. Those in attendance at Rogers Centre gave him several standing ovations throughout the game, something that’s unheard of for a manager leaving the Toronto Blue Jays.
Gibbons’ two exits from the team were opposite in nearly every way. Why? Because during his second stint, with the help of two playoff appearances and social media, the manager won over nearly an entire fanbase. It was a slow process for Jays fans to accept their old manager back, but Gibbons was nearly universally liked across the fanbase by the 2015 postseason, and the changed views on Gibbons were shown clearly during that final home game.
It’s remarkable how much a playoff appearance or two changes the perception of a player or manager. (For example, the nostalgia of Ryan Goins or Ben Revere among Jays fans)
It’s true that the roster that was fielded in the second half of 2015 could probably have made the playoffs with an enthusiastic puppy managing, but there’s more than that. Gibbons was the manager that veteran players loved playing for during his second stint with Toronto. He was largely the type to step back and let his players do their thing, while stepping in when something got out of hand. 2016 wasn’t a year that guaranteed a playoff appearance, and Gibbons’ managing of lineups and pitchers throughout that year is impressive in retrospect.
There’s also the social media factor. In Gibbons’ first experience as Jays manager, there were advertisements for flip phones and simple 8-bit games inside of Blue Jays game programs. Twitter was just getting started from 2006-2008, and therefore didn’t exist the way it does now.
In 2018, Gibbons’ laid-back nature and friendly post-game nature allowed the fanbase of Jays fans on Twitter to make Gibbons GIF accounts, among other friendly Gibbons posts. The hashtag “GibbyTheBest” has been recurring over the last few years. The presence of modern social media has allowed an entire fanbase to connect with Gibbons in ways they weren’t able to before. Several fanbases have connected with players this way, but it’s far more rare to see a manager become this popular.
So, after all of this praise and a large standing ovation, why is John Gibbons leaving the Toronto Blue Jays? Gibbons appeared on MLB Network Radio on August 10th of this year and stated “I’m not so sure I want to go through one of those things – a total rebuild.”
The second those words left his mouth, fans began accepting that their manager was leaving. “Gibby,” who had led two teams into the American League Championship Series this decade, was no longer seen as the right fit to manage a young squad.
With Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, and Ryan Borucki already into Toronto, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette on the way, the youth movement has started. John Gibbons won’t be there to manage it.
Is that the right move for Toronto?
It’s more complicated than that. John Gibbons is apparently comfortable with it, so it’s hard for anyone else to say otherwise. With all this said, there’s one thing for certain.
John Gibbons will be remembered far more positively after his second managerial stint when compared to his first, and he was the dugout leader in Blue Jays playoff games that will be played on repeat by both current fans and future generations.
So, in a way, he’ll always be the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“File:John Gibbons, Russell Martin (34674356631).jpg” by Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Image was altered for presentation purposes, you can find the original at that link)