Gibbons helped end Jays playoff drought

By Bob Elliott

St. PETERSBRUG _ The string of wise decisions for Alex Anthopoulos didn’t begin with a call to Colorado.

The general manager’s run of success and helping make the Blue Jays 2015 American League East champions began long before obtaining Troy Tulowitzki. 

It goes back before trading for Josh Donaldson or signing free-agent Russell Martin last fall. 

Anthopoulos was assistant general manager in 2008 and was involved in the decision, to acquire Jose Bautista on Aug. 21, whom the Pittsburgh Pirates had demoted to triple-A Indianapolis after placing the outfielder on waivers. 

After receiving approval from GM, J.P. Ricciardi he worked out a deal with the Pirates sending catcher Robinzon Diaz to the Pirates.

He also made a phone call in November of 2012 to San Antonio, Tex. The Jays were in need of a manager after John Farrell opted out of his contract and was dealt to the Boston Red Sox on Oct. 21, 2012 with David Carpenter for Mike Aviles.

First, Anthopoulos discussed a scouting job and a coaching job for Gibbons. And then ...

“He was good with the players, he is a great in-game manager, handles people well, deals well with the front office and has a good relationship with the media, he checked a lot of boxes as a manager,” said Anthopoulos sitting in the Jays dugout Saturday night. “Can he improve on some things sure? We all can.

“People forget he had a .500 record first time here when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were basically super powers.” 

The Red Sox went to post-season play four times from 2004-08 while winning two World Series, with the Yankees reached the playoffs four times and once the Tampa Bay Rays reached the Series.

Gibbons, who started the season on the managerial hot seat as favorite to be the first AL skipper to be fired, is headed for post-season play. 

“I’ll say one thing,” said an advance scout from another club, “players play hard for him. That’s a good sign. And in three weeks I haven’t seen Bautista turn around and complain to an ump once.

“The frustration is still there, but no carrying on like we used to see.”

Another scout was impressed with Gibbons decision to give the ball to LaTroy Hawkins, who arrived in the Tulowitzki deal and is retiring, to get the final three outs in the 15-2 clincher Wednesday in Baltimore.

There was shock and surprise to the Gibbons announcement in 2012. Reaction ranged from president Paul Beeston’s initial “are you nuts?” response when Anthopoulos told his boss to yawns from fans at the arrival of a retread.

The Jays 2013 “all-in” season with 74 wins was not the fault of the manager and last year when the Jays had 83. This year there were grumbles when his team sat 50-50 and he was knocked in some media outlets.

“It’s lazy to knock the manager -- it was my fault, I didn’t get him the players,” said Anthopoulos.

During Gibbons 1.0 he challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight which almost cost him his job as suits at Rogers Communications human resources department didn’t think it was a proper way to do business ... like letting a president hang for three months was good management.

Hillenbrand’s crime was writing “This Ship is Sinking” on the white board.” Gibbons also tussled with lefty Ted Lilly who didn’t want to give the ball up after almost giving up the lead to the Oakland A’s.

Gibbons 2.0 demoted Kevin Pillar last year after the outfielder was pinch hit for and over reacted, told

Brett Lawrie to “shut up and sit down. we’ve got a game to win,” when the third baseman complained loudly why Adam Lind had not tagged on a shallow fly and he went the length of the dugout to bark at Melky Cabrera, earning $8 million for loafing on a single to left costing the Jays an extra base.

“He knows when to call a guy out,” said Anthopoulos, “a lot of managers would have let things go until after the game and do it behind closed doors.”

There have been plenty of closed door sessions we don’t know about.

In some ways Gibbons is like hitting coach Brook Jacoby. Neither wants any credit, nor are self promoters.

The biggest criticism Anthopoulos had about Gibbons in his second tenure?

“A good manager to me is like a good ump, or a good third base coach -- you don’t notice him,” said the man who gave the Texican the second chance at managing. “The worst fire storm I can remember was when he pinch hit last September for Ryan Goins, the game went into extras, Steve Tolleson made an error at second and we lost. 

“It was the right move. It didn’t work out.”

Bringing back the Gibbons was a good move.

So, Cito Gaston of San Antonio, the cradle of Blue Jays managers had guided four Blue Jays teams to post-season play.

Gibbons is tied with Bobby Cox, of Selma, Calif. and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, for getting the Jays to October ball at once each.

Not bad company.