John Gibbons prides himself on being a simple man. He is the everyman’s manager. He’s also the type of guy you’d want to sit down and have a beer with. Okay, two beers … maybe three.
If you want a glimpse of peak Gibbons, look no further than his entrance during the Blue Jays’ Leadoff event back in early February. Donning a leather jacket and cowboy boots, he entered to the song “Simple Man” and strutted across the stage to thunderous applause from fans.
Gibbons’ unsuspecting nature is one of the main reasons why his name goes unmentioned when the discussion turns towards the best managers in the game. He doesn’t come with the style or pizazz of a Joe Maddon, or the statistical prowess and analysis of Joe Girardi.
John Gibbons is a pretty simple guy … which may lead people to believe he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. But over the past few years, Gibbons has mastered the art of flying under the radar. And in doing so, he’s attained a cult-like status among Blue Jays faithful.
Over the course of the 2013-2014 seasons, John Gibbons was a polarizing figure, as managers of meddling teams often become. The uproar escalated in early 2015 after the Blue Jays struggled, and subsequently many cried “fire Gibbons”.
The criticism is nothing new to Gibbons as he’s heard it for years since he was brought back unexpectedly by Alex Anthopoulos in late 2012. He’s often been the scapegoat for a team which has underperformed.
Quite too often, the blame unjustly falls onto the shoulders of the manager. In reality, the skipper only has a minute effect on the game and his team’s ability to win. More often than not, it has to do with the talent assembled and whether they perform or not.
And John Gibbons has certainly been on both ends of that spectrum.
When I look at John Gibbons, I see two completely men from two completely different eras; the 2004-2008 Gibbons, and the 2013 to present. Reflecting on his first tour in Toronto, the team itself was fairly forgettable, mired in mediocrity; which made Gibby himself equally as forgettable.
The only thing which sticks out from that era was John Gibbons’ confrontations with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. Whether Gibbons was in the right or wrong on this situations, he came off with the reputation of being a hothead and the type of manager that would fight somebody.
After he was fired in 2008, that may be one of the big reasons why he had so much difficulty finding a job managing in the big leagues again; his supposed “reputation” after these encounters with his players.
Later that season, Gibbons made his way to Kansas City as a bench coach and eventually ended up as a manager for his hometown San Antonio Missions; the double A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
Looking back between the two eras, it’s like looking at two vastly different incarnations of John Gibbons. Back then, it was the lasting image of an angry Gibbons in the dugout, compared to the fun-loving, easy-going manager he is today.
Just watch John Gibbons’ body language these days; Gibby has achieved complete zen-like state as he’s typically either draped over the railing or leaning in a corner of the dugout. Gibbons is more relaxed than ever, and as a manager, he’s enjoying the best years of his career.
It’s been a long time coming. Mind you, that 2013 Toronto Blue Jays roster was supposed to run itself. 2014 was more of the same, but ultimately was another disappointing season. But 2015 was finally the season where it all clicked for the Blue Jays, and John Gibbons definitely had a hand in that.
Gibbons has always come with the reputation of knowing how to run a bullpen. That was one of his strengths during his first tours with the Blue Jays, and the same is true today. And assembling a lockdown bullpen will be the calling card for John Gibbons this year.
The bullpen is one of the few aspects of the game where Gibbons actually has control and the ability to make a difference with this club.
John Gibbons absolutely took a risk by removing his rollover clause out of his contract, but let’s be honest; the reason why Alex Anthopoulos built that clause into Gibbons’ contract? It was a kneejerk reaction to the John Farrell debacle.
Part one of that phase was the infamous “not lateral movements” policy, which was the front office’s feigned attempt to keep Farrell from jumping ship to the Red Sox … which he did anyway. Gibbons’ rollover clause ensured that he’d never be a lame duck manager, but really, it was just a PR move.
Any manager can be fired at any given time, regardless of whether they have a two-year or a ten-year contract. It doesn’t make a damn difference.
The rollover clause was essentially a safety net for John Gibbons, but in essence it was also a built-in excuse for the Blue Jays to keep Gibbons around (to begin the season, at least).
It says a lot that the new regime of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are placing their faith in John Gibbons. After all, they have no ties to Gibby; in fact, many expected them to oust Gibbons upon their arrival and bring in one of their own guys to manage this team.
But they didn’t. Instead, Shapiro and Atkins have taken a liking to John Gibbons and have extended Gibby through the 2017 season. Barring a complete meltdown by the Blue Jays this season, Gibbons will stick around as skipper a little while longer.
Sometimes, I think Gibbons plays up the simpleton card a little bit and he makes it seem like he doesn’t know what’s going on; but really, he’s much more intelligent than he leads on.
One wonders if “Gibby” himself is a character and John Gibbons is merely playing the part of an unsuspecting guy.
That’s one of the ways in which he’s endeared himself not only to the reporters that speak to him on a daily basis, but the fans and players as well. Gibbons’ self-deprecating sense of humour reinforces the notion that he never takes himself too seriously, which is refreshing in a game that often adheres to strict rules.
But it really has been fascinating to watch the transformation of Gibby over the years. Before, he came across as a hothead manager and didn’t exactly have a great reputation.Now, John Gibbons is revered as a player’s manager, is adored by the front office, he’s has developed a cult-like following.
I suppose a 93-win season and a division title will do that to a manager’s reputation. But it’s Gibby’s uncompromising nature which will continue to make him a favourite with fans and players alike in Toronto.
Image via Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP