Toronto Baseball Guys
Saturday, June 21, 2008
  One Helluva Flashback Friday
Having not checked any media outlet myself, I assured the voice on the phone that whomever had told him Cito Gaston was the new manager of the Blue Jays was simply having fun pulling his leg. I was reminded of the glorious day back in 1991 that I heard that Todd Stottlemyre and Mike Timlin had been dealt to Boston for Roger Clemens. It took me about 30 seconds to realize that the date was April 1.

Sure enough, there was the press release on Bluejays.com that John Gibbons and his staff had been replaced by Gaston, Gene Tenace, Nick Leyva and Dwayne Murphy. No, Joe Carter had not been signed to patrol left field.

So what to make of all this? The week began with a series of newspaper articles about how the sky was falling, how Ricciardi and Gibbons should be shown the door, how Vernon Wells is a terrible leader because he doesn't dress down his teammates, and how the season was essentially over. Checking the standings, the Jays were still at .500, and no team had played 75 games yet.

The Jays then went out and fulfilled all of these ink-stained prophecies, dropping 6 straight and finding new and interesting ways to lose games. Ricciardi answered a phone-in show question a little too honestly, insulting a player in a completely different league, and to the best of our knowledge, Vernon Wells didn't peel the paint off the clubhouse walls.

So we have the return of Cito. It's a fine interim move. Gaston has experience, will be popular with the fans, and has even resurrected a last place team in mid-season before. Perhaps he can catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

It's great to see Gaston get another shot as a major league skipper, and shocking that it's taken him 11 years to get it. How many 2-time World Series champs don't get another chance to manage? Sure, Cito was dismissed in some corners as a "push-button" manager who simply had to manage a great team, but how many great teams don't get over the hump? (Turn-of-the-century Mariners, I'm looking at you).

The move also exposes the rather limited thinking of those in the "Fire J.P." camp. There is no shortage of Toronto sportswriters who gleefully rhyme off the number of seasons without a post-season appearance, and demand his dismissal. Some have been at it for three or four years now. Certainly, Ricciardi has had ample opportunity to build his team, and while he's done some good things, there are no more banners hanging in the Rogers Centre now than when he first showed up. A change in the front office would be a reasonable move, provided that a worthwhile successor can be found. This is where the creative thinking of the local media tends to fail, as I've yet to hear any viable or dynamic suggestions as to who should replace Ricciardi - and no, Pat Gillick doesn't count.

If you can land a Mark Shapiro or Brian Cashman type, super - but those guys aren't available in mid-season, and change simply for the sake of change can be suicide for a sports franchise (see Leafs, Maple).

As of this moment, the Jays are in the same position as they were prior to this slide: their pitching allows them to compete with anyone in baseball and their hitting remains lousy. There are no quick fixes. They are absolutely married to Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Aaron Hill and Scott Rolen. The one comforting thought is that everyone on the team not named Barajas is achieving at a level below their career norms, so hopefully Gene Tenace can coax a little progression to the mean out of the bats.

The season is not yet lost. If the Phillies can make up a 7-game deficit with 17 games to play, these Jays can certainly make up nine with 85 to play. Step one: get back to .500. That should be the focus once Cito and the Jays return from a lousy interleague stretch.
 
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