When John Gibbons was hired in the fall of 2012, many fans were surprised to hear that the former Blue Jays manager was re-taking the reins after being relieved of his duties in 2008. After ‘The Trade’, fans were perhaps hoping that a so-called ‘big-name’ manager would be coming north to lead the new-look team to baseball glory.
Some were disappointed – virtually everyone was surprised. Few, however, paused to consider what the role of a manager actually encompasses in baseball, and whether Gibbons would be fit to satisfy those requirements.
Most fans of the Blue Jays are familiar with hockey and are at very least exposed to it on a regular basis. A hockey coach has, on top of many other responsibilities, a motivational role to play in leading his team to battle.
Anyone who has ever watched a Disney sports movie assumes that locker room speeches are fundamental to the success of any team. Certainly seeing Bruch Boudreau’s profanity-laced locker room speech in 2010 is enough to make you forget that the Capitals actually lost the game 3-0.
In order to fully understand the role of a Major League Baseball manager, one has to shed any misconceptions they might have that are ultimately rooted in knowledge of other sports, such as hockey, basketball, and football.
It’s well known that the Blue Jays are struggling right now. The team is not getting on base, batters are striking out too often, and the starters aren’t delivering as expected – where is Herb Brooks when you need him?
One can imagine John Gibbons waddling into the locker room after Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees with scowl on his face. Throwing his hat down in a fit of rage, he begins to deliver a speech for the ages in his Boomhauer-like voice.
“Hit the ball more”, “Throw more strikes”, “Quit half-a**ing it!” – all of the stereotypical statements that are sure to deliver immediate results and cultivate long-term success.
Seriously though, what is he supposed to do? In a largely individual sport where success is determined over the long-term, no motivational speech is going to inspire a group of professional adults to suddenly start performing better.
As far as we know with certainty, a manager can help contribute to the success of a team through sound bullpen management, batting lineups, defensive alignment and situational hitting. That’s about it.
In some regards, Gibbons has been all that one could ask for in a manager.
While he does tend to rely a bit too much on small sample splits, he shuffles the batting lineup quite a bit. We’ve seen Melky Cabrera batting cleanup, Adam Lind in the two hole, and just this past Sunday, Brett Lawrie leading off, all taking the opposing pitcher – and in some cases, common sense – into consideration.
‘Small ball’ is employed at more appropriate times. The bullpen is finding success with less defined roles and a careful consideration of high leverage situations. Some late game pinch hitting substitutions have demonstrated that behind Gibbons’ ‘Simple Man’ demeanor is a thoughtful and creative baseball mind.
Not everyone agrees, of course, as Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star argues that some of the team’s shortcomings are to blame on the manager. The Twittersphere hasn’t exactly been supportive either.
Certainly some of the defensive shifts seen during the 2012 season would be a welcome sight. Fielding performance overall likely hints that the Blue Jays miss Brian Butterfield.
Not helping his case (and with the benefit of hindsight), some felt that the decision to substitute Rajai Davis for Colby Rasmus on April 16th, who was 2-2 on the night, was a little over their heads – and apparently, Emilio Bonifacio’s as well.
There has been some good and some bad, as one would expect from such an up and down sport like baseball. The question is, what has Gibbons’ role been in those failures?
There is only so much that an MLB manager can do to maximize the performance of their team. Those quick to fire off a #FireGibby hashtag on Twitter based strictly on wins and losses should consider the rationale behind their impulsive prescription.
I, for one, welcome some of what John Gibbons has brought to the table in his second tenure as the Jays skipper.
If the Blue Jays start winning, do we credit him with the turnaround?