Flashback Friday: The John Gibbons/Shea Hillenbrand Altercation

John Gibbons has had a tough week. Judging by the sound of his voice and the look on his face at some of the post-game pressers, it seems like John Gibbons has aged 20 years in the past month or so.

The usual jovial Blue Jays manager has sounded increasingly dejected, and dealing with an injury-riddled roster like that of the Toronto Blue Jays would certainly take a lot out of a person.

As bad as it’s been the past month or so, John Gibbons has dealt with adversity in the past when it comes to his players. Most notably his dustup with Ted Lilly and the focus of this week’s Flashback Friday; his altercation with Shea Hillenbrand.


It was the midst of the 2006 season and as the Blue Jays approached the All-Star break, they owned a 49-39 record and found themselves in a good position entering the second half of the season. Everything appeared to be fine … but it wasn’t.

Underneath the surface, there was conflict brewing between the Blue Jays designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand and manager John Gibbons.

The rumour was that Hillenbrand was upset with his playing time, however he started 70 of the Blue Jays 88 games in the first half and played in 80 of 88 games total. So it’s not like John Gibbons was benching Shea Hillenbrand often.

There were also reports that Hillenbrand was upset that the team did not give him ample days off to complete the adoption of his child. He took the weekend off to fly to California, and upon his return to the team, he was not penciled into the starting lineup.

So on July 20th 2006, after not being in the lineup for the second straight game, Shea Hillenbrand decided he had enough. He famously wrote two key phrases on the clubhouse bulletin board; “play for yourself” and “the ship is sinking.”

Word traveled quickly of the remarks in the clubhouse and John Gibbons promptly called a closed-door meeting with the team. It got to the point where Gibbons was so irate that he stood up and challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight.

Here’s Hillenbrand’s story of said altercation:

“(Gibbons) held a team meeting and singled me out, and was cursing at me in front of the team, and challenged me to a fight and wanted me to punch him in the face.”

It was quite evident that the front office sided with John Gibbons through the entire altercation as it was announced shortly thereafter that Shea Hillenbrand had been designated for assignment.


At the time, Hillenbrand was actually having a successful season as the Blue Jays full-time DH, with a slash line of .301/.342/.480. But considering that Shea Hillenbrand was cast aside by the Blue Jays, it’s miraculous they were able to parlay him into anything.

Within a few days, the Blue Jays completed a trade to send Shea Hillenbrand along with Vinnie Chulk to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Jeremy Accardo.

At the time, Accardo was a relatively unknown commodity, but the following season he filled in for an injured B.J. Ryan as the Blue Jays closer and had a very successful season in 2007; posting 30 saves with a sparkling 2.14 ERA in 64 appearances.

Hillenbrand was not as lucky, as he finished out the season with the Giants and then finished off his Major League career by playing a combined 73 games in 2007 split between the Dodgers and Angels.

By all indications, the John Gibbons/Shea Hillenbrand altercation seems like water under the bridge between the two. Hillenbrand surprisingly endorsed the re-hiring of Gibbons in 2012 and admitted he didn’t handle the situation very well.

I suppose the adage coined by J.P. Ricciardi in the above video rings true here; if you can’t play for John Gibbons, you can’t play for anybody.


Images courtesy of USA Today and info courtesy of ESPN

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.