Lost in the offensive explosion unleashed by the Toronto Blue Jays is the man who is once again in the background of Jays’ success.
Cito Gaston has done all of this before, which makes it hard to dismiss this year’s fast start.
Gaston’s first major league managerial job came during the 1989 season after the Blue Jays fired then-manager Jimy Williams following a 12-24 start. Gaston took over for Williams, and Toronto went 77-49 the rest of the way and won the AL East title. Two World Series championships would come in the next four years, making Gaston the first African-American manager to win baseball’s biggest prize.
But Gaston has never seemed to garner much respect. I doubt he would land in the top 5 in any poll asking who the best manager in the game today is. He never won the AL’s Manager of the Year award, despite the ’89 turnaround and the two titles.
Gaston was fired late in the 1997 season after some lean years in Toronto, and for the next 11 years he would be unable to land a managerial job. He came close in some job pursuits, finishing behind Ozzie Guillen for the Chicago White Sox job a few years back. Gaston always stood by his record, reaching the point where he said he wouldn’t manage again unless he didn’t have to interview.
Fast forward to 2008. Another manager fired. Another opportunity for Gaston.
He got his first shot to manage again last year for, who else, the Blue Jays. Toronto was off to a 35-39 start before John Gibbons was let go, and Gaston guided the Jays to a 51-37 mark since taking over that year.
And now Toronto finds itself with a major league-best 13-5 mark heading into Saturday’s play. Young players like Adam Lind and Travis Snider – who got little chance to play under Gibbons – have thrived under Gaston’s calmer approach (especially when compared with the occassionally fiery Gibbons).
And a rotation that has seen four solid starters – Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch and Ricky Romero - injured since this time last year is doing OK. Roy Halladay and Co. are holding down the fort so far.
It will be tough for the Jays to maintain this success, but the Rays proved last year that this division isn’t just about the Red Sox and Yankees.
And hey, Gaston’s been here before.