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Gaston honored during Hank Aaron Weekend

Braves legend 'like a father' to former Atlanta player and Toronto manager
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Long before he became the first African-American manager to win a World Series or patrolled the outfield at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Cito Gaston was just a young rookie realizing a lifelong dream.

Gaston had the tools to be a prominent outfielder, but he often sought guidance from his teammates. He leaned on the advice of several players, but it was his roommate who left him with a lasting impression.

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ATLANTA -- Long before he became the first African-American manager to win a World Series or patrolled the outfield at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Cito Gaston was just a young rookie realizing a lifelong dream.

Gaston had the tools to be a prominent outfielder, but he often sought guidance from his teammates. He leaned on the advice of several players, but it was his roommate who left him with a lasting impression.

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That roommate went by the name of Henry Aaron -- "Hammerin Hank" to baseball fans around the world. Aaron, who was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, quickly became a role model for Gaston.

"It is not too often that you get to room with your childhood idol," Gaston said. "My life has been super in a lot of ways, and certainly sometimes it has been a struggle. But all good things come out of a struggle if you look at it and treat it the right way."

The duo roomed together during the 1967 season with the Braves. They stayed connected through the spring, as Aaron often encouraged Gaston to get better each day. He even helped Gaston get back into the sport, when he served as the Braves' farm director in the '80s.

Both were honored Friday as a part of Hank Aaron Heritage Weekend at SunTrust Park. Gaston was honored as a Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Award winner. The award is presented to individuals who have made outstanding commitments to overcoming obstacles for future generations.

"Hank was almost like a father to me, because he taught me so many things about life," Gaston said. "He taught me about standing on your own two feet and being your own man."

Aaron's teachings helped Gaston became the Blue Jays' manager in 1989. Gaston quickly transformed the team into contenders by relying on a message that Aaron told him in his playing days.

"He always told me, 'If you have a bad day or good day, keep moving forward and don't bring it to the next day,'" Gaston said.

In a few years, Gaston was able to lead Toronto to its 1992 World Series victory, besting Atlanta in six games. He became the first African-American manager to win a Fall Classic, and he followed that up with another title in '93.

As a manager, Gaston finished 894-837 in 12 seasons with the Blue Jays. He finished 18-16 in the postseason before he retired in 2010.

"I think I want to be remembered as a manager that treats his players as men," Gaston said. "I think you get the best out of [players] when you treat them like men. ... I want to be known as a coaches' manager."

Gaston was honored at the Center of Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and at SunTrust Park. He will be linked once again with Aaron as his career comes full circle standing alongside his idol and friend.

"Hank doesn't know this, but he has helped a whole lot of people with the things that he taught me," Gaston said. "This is a great weekend for me, and it's absolutely super."

Jaylon Thompson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays