John Gibbons won't be back as Toronto skipper

Manager, GM Atkins hold joint news conference: 'It's best for both sides'

September 26th, 2018

TORONTO -- One of the worst-kept secrets in all of baseball was made official on Wednesday afternoon, when the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons announced they will be parting ways at the end of the season.

In an unusual move for a departing manager, Gibbons held a joint news conference with general manager Ross Atkins to break the news that had been circulating for the past couple of months. The separation that seemed inevitable for so long finally became a reality.

This wasn't really a firing and it wasn't really a resignation. Instead it was two sides that realized a change of scenery was best for everyone involved. That's pretty uncommon in the modern age of professional sports, but it also seems fitting for a guy who garnered a reputation of being an old-school manager.

"We kept that secret pretty good, didn't we?" Gibbons jokingly said at the start of his news conference. "We had been talking, obviously, the last couple of months.

"Ross and I are on good terms. It's just one of those things that happens in baseball. It's not surprising, it's pretty common. And we've come to the conclusion that it's best for both sides if we go in a different direction."

Gibbons will wrap up his managerial career with the Blue Jays on Sunday. He intends to remain with the club through its final three-game series against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg before returning home to San Antonio to decide his next steps. The 56-year-old expressed a desire to manage again and said at the very least he wants to remain in the game because he is not yet ready for retirement.

The former catcher entered play on Wednesday with a 791-787 record, which ranks second in franchise history for the most wins by a manager behind only Cito Gaston's 894-837. Gibbons led the Blue Jays to an American League East title in 2015 and back-to-back appearances in the AL Championship Series in 2015-16.

If there's one moment that Gibbons will remember the most from his time with Toronto, it was a soggy night at Camden Yards on Sept. 30, 2015. The Blue Jays snapped a 22-year postseason drought by defeating the Orioles, 15-2, and the champagne celebration seemed to wash away whatever baggage Gibbons was still carrying.

This is the same guy who started his career in Toronto as a bullpen catcher because he needed a job, and then general manager J.P. Ricciardi, his good friend, was willing to oblige. Gibbons became a first-base coach and later a manager over two stints. There was plenty of criticism along the way, and maybe even more lows than highs while competing against the likes of Boston and New York, but that night made it all worth it.

"We finally became relevant in baseball again," Gibbons said. "It finally happened, and it happened in a big way. Because for half of that season, it was kind of hanging around and not making a big push, and then we just exploded. This is the only place I've ever managed in the big leagues, so I had never experienced that.

"To do that when you're the manager, since that is the ultimate goal, that's what stands out. But I have so many good memories of this place, in good times and bad."

Atkins declined to get into specifics of what he would be looking for in a new manager and instead said those answers will come at the end of the year. The future can wait, at least a few more days, and instead Wednesday was all about honoring the man who once second-guessed but turned into somewhat of a cult hero among certain sections of the fan base.

It might have been a little strange to see Atkins and Gibbons sitting beside each other at the media availability, but it all made sense when Toronto's GM shared an anecdote. He talked about a recent meeting the Blue Jays had with rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and midway through the meeting the 24-year-old interrupted the proceedings because he had a message, or rather a story.

Gurriel wanted to thank Gibbons for pulling him out of a rut earlier this season. The native of Cuba was struggling, both mentally and physically, in the field and at the plate. His confidence was shattered, and it was at one of those low points that Gibbons pulled him aside with a simple, yet poignant, message.

"'You pulled me aside, you looked at me when I was sitting on the bench, and said, "Hey, remember to smile and remember to enjoy this,"'" Atkins said as he was relaying the story. "[Gurriel] said, 'I'll never forget that. I really appreciate it. I knew that in my heart, my dad has told me that my entire life, but I had forgotten to do that.'"

That story might be a perfect example of the mark that Gibbons leaves behind in Toronto. First and foremost, he was known as a players' manager. Someone they could confide in. Someone they could trust. Someone who would go to bat for them with the front office and someone who let the players police themselves but wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty when things turned sour.

Above all, Gibbons was loyal.

"I'll always be a Blue Jay," Gibbons said. "I've been in baseball a long time now. I get how this business works. I knew the reality of it; it wasn't just coming from here, it was coming from all over baseball. We were a pretty good team for a couple of years, but if things start sliding, that's just the way it goes.

"The storm clouds were gathering, there's no doubt ... I knew the reality of it. I have been here for a long time and I agree it's time for a change. We're rebuilding here, and I think I'm a perfect guy for a rebuild, but I don't know if I have the energy for it. ... I think we both agree that the time is right."