The Toronto Blue Jays have reached into the past in a big-time push to build a future contender.
John Gibbons, who skippered the Blue Jays between 2004 and 2008, was re-hired Tuesday as manager, succeeding John Farrell, who bolted for his "dream job" of managing the Boston Red Sox following two middling seasons in Toronto.
"It has happened fast," Gibbons told reporters during a media conference at Rogers Centre. "I'm thrilled to be back."
"From my standpoint, I don't have any stronger belief that this is the right guy to lead this team," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said.
Anthopoulos also addressed the acquisition of shortstop Jose Reyes, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, right-hander Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and utility man Emilio Bonifacio in the much-documented, 12-player megadeal with the Miami Marlins, finalized Monday evening, and the signing of free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera for an estimated $16 million US over two years.
"We think our lineup is going to be very dynamic," he said.
"The front office has put together a legitimate, contending-type team," Gibbons noted. "Now it's the manager's job and the coaching staff's job to pull it together as a team and get the most out of these guys — that's our No. 1 job."
Gibbons, 50, is said to be a close friend of Anthopoulos, which may speak to him being hired over rumoured candidates Jim Riggleman, Jim Tracy and the like.
"I wasn't even involved in it," Gibbons said, referring to Toronto's managerial search. "You guys [the media] were way off."
"I don't know that there was anybody better in terms of managing a bullpen, connecting with the players, connecting with the front office, holding players accountable," Anthopoulos explained. "Really, everything you want in a manager."
Gibbons, from Great Falls, Mont., replaced fired Carlos Tosca in his first go-round as Blue Jays skipper in August 2004, going 20-30 the rest of the way and posting a 305-305 record in 610 games at the helm.
He has since served as bench coach with the Kansas City Royals and last season managed the San Diego Padres' double-A affiliate in San Antonio, Texas, where he was raised and still calls home.
Prior to joining the Blue Jays the first time, he spent 11 years in the New York Mets organization, earning three manager-of-the-year awards.
"I've got more conviction in this transaction, in this hiring, than anything," Anthopoulos said. "It's my decision, it's what I wanted to do."
Gibbons was originally hired by Toronto in 2002 as a bullpen catcher by then-GM (and former minor-league roommate) J.P. Ricciardi and swiftly promoted to first-base coach under Tosca.
Gibbons' first stint as manager was highlighted by an 87-75 mark in 2006, when the Blue Jays rose beyond third place in the American League East for the first time since winning back-to-back World Series in 1992-93.
"Players love playing for him … [and] he connected with the front office," Anthopoulos said.
Perhaps so, but Gibbons' long-held reputation as an affable coach was damaged that season in somewhat unprofessional confrontations with disgruntled veterans Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly.
"Yeah, I had a couple of dustups," he admitted, albeit not sheepishly.
Gibbons challenged Hillenbrand to a fight after the outspoken first baseman wrote critical slogans — "play for yourself" and "the ship is sinking" — on a board used to post batting practice times.
Hillenbrand was promptly designated for assignment and traded three days later to the San Francisco Giants.
"What happened with Shea Hillenbrand, he better be confronted," Anthopoulos said in defending Gibbons in retrospect.
"I think it's a strong suit. If you do push, he [Gibbons]
will react and I think it's important."
Later that season, Gibbons reportedly shoved Lilly during a heated exchange in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse after removing the pitcher from a game in which he had squandered a healthy lead.
The pair had to be separated by teammates, but patched things up without further incident.
"That was kind of a black eye for me," Gibbons acknowledged. "I wish it hadn't happened, but it happened.
"I'm an intense guy, I play to win … I'm passionate, but I also believe everyone has to be pulling in the same direction."
Too intense? Too passionate?
Viewpoints at the time often varied on Gibbons, who, ultimately, failed to lead Toronto to the post-season and wound up fired in June 2008 and replaced by celebrated World Series-winning skipper Cito Gaston — by coincidence, the only other person hired twice to manage the Blue Jays.