ARLINGTON -- Cito Gaston has had a busy month, between organizing a home remodeling project and recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. Of course, he’s watching a lot of postseason baseball, too.
As a Florida resident, he has friends who work for the Rays. He also has a connection to the Dodgers’ manager, even though they haven’t been in direct contact recently.
With one more victory, Dave Roberts can follow Gaston as the second African-American manager to win the World Series.
“I’m so proud of him and what he’s accomplished,” Gaston told MLB.com in a telephone interview prior to Tuesday’s Game 6. “Playing this season during a pandemic, it hasn’t been easy for these guys. You only played 60 ballgames. You had the additional round of playoffs. Then you played five games in a row, seven games in a row, all the way to the World Series.
“Being African-American, being a Black man, I’m very proud of him and happy for him. He’s a good guy to have that legacy and carry it forward.”
Gaston, 76, managed the Blue Jays to consecutive World Series titles in 1992 and '93. Since then, three African-American managers have won pennants: Dusty Baker with the Giants in 2002; Ron Washington with the Rangers in ’10 and ’11; and Roberts with the Dodgers in ’17, ’18, and ’20.
“They’ve been close, and it took me a few times to win, too,” Gaston said, referring to Toronto’s American League Championship Series losses in 1989 and '91. “What I see in the [Dodgers] is that they have a lot of confidence. My guys were always that way. They’d say, ‘Why show up if you’re not going to win?’ This Dodgers team is very athletic, very talented. You’ve got guys who can play second base, left field and right field.
“Dave has done well, dealing with a lot of different guys. One thing that’s changed in the game is you see pitchers who are throwing pretty well after 4 2/3 innings, and you take them out. They’re not going to be too happy with you, but Dave is wise enough to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re all here to win, and if we all stay with this program, we’re going to win ballgames and have a great time.’ [Rays manager Kevin] Cash has done a great job with that, as well.”
Gaston followed the news from his home as Major League teams, including the Dodgers, declined to take the field in late August after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin. In one of the season’s enduring images, Roberts stood with his star players -- Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen -- as they spoke emotionally about their decision at a press conference.
“That was a very proud moment for me, to see Dave standing there with his players,” Gaston said. “As a Black person in the U.S. -- as a person of any color -- it meant so much that these guys stood up and said, ‘Enough is enough.’ I’m so proud of them.
“It’s tear-jerking for me, even as I talk about it now.”
Roberts and Baker were the two African-American managers in the Major Leagues for most of this season, prior to Lloyd McClendon finishing the year as the Tigers’ interim manager.
Baker’s Astros came within one victory of the AL pennant, which would have set up the first matchup of Black managers in the World Series; Roberts and Baker had met in the postseason once before, during the 2016 National League Division Series while Baker was managing the Nationals.
This year, Baker became the first manager in MLB history to lead five franchises into the postseason. Baker, a Braves teammate of Gaston’s during the 1970s, leads all active managers with 1,892 career victories and ranks 15th on the all-time wins list.
“That’s Hall of Fame stuff right there,” Gaston said of Baker’s résumé.
Roberts, 48, was born in Japan to an African-American father and Japanese mother. He is the only manager of Asian descent to lead his team to the World Series.
Multiple African-American candidates have interviewed for managerial jobs already this offseason, including McClendon, Dodgers first-base coach George Lombard and Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames with the Tigers. The Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox have interviewed Cubs third-base coach Will Venable for their vacancy.
“I would hope, if Dave wins, that’s going to bring more attention and opportunity for minorities to become managers,” Gaston said. “I’d like to see Dusty win one World Series before he leaves, too. He’s done so many great things. They’re both showing how much success Black managers can have in the game.
“It makes me very proud. I always go back to the people who had to stand up for us to have this chance, and it all starts with Jackie Robinson.”