Getting to sit down with Cito Gaston to talk about his coaching, as well as playing career was really terrific. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did interviewing him and writing it.
When you were a player, you played for 11 seasons. During that period of time you made 1 All-Star appearance. What was that feeling like for you?
It was great. Because the year before, I had a great year but got hurt. I came into spring training and hit 11 home runs in my first year in San Diego. I got hurt and had a terrible year. The next year I back-bounced back by hitting .318 and made the all-star team. It was a great feeling-the only thing I was disappointed by was because it was in Cincinnati. Not because it was in Cincinnati, but because I was coming there from the West Coast so I missed a lot of things. That was also the year where they didn’t give rings away, but they gave self portraits. My self portrait looked like Ollie Brown and not Cito Gaston.
After a few more years, your numbers weren’t as good as what you did prior. It sort of felt like the league itself just chewed you up and spit you out (to a certain degree). Was that what it sort of felt like?
Well it took me about six years to really learn how to hit. And once I finally learned how to hit, I wouldn’t play anymore. There’s different reasons. I remember this one time my team drove in 13 runs in a week and I got eight of them. And I was sitting on the bench still. So sometimes things happen that you can’t control, and I just felt sometimes that I didn’t get a chance to play enough. But in the end it was a great 11 years in the big leagues. And it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was a kid. So it’s pretty amazing. I tell kids all the time that if there’s anything you want to do then you can do it. It’s amazing just getting to spend some time in the big leagues. I never really thought about being a coach or being a manager. So everything turned out pretty good.
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A few seasons after you retired, you became the hitting coach for Toronto. What urged you to become a coach?
Well actually it started with Hank Aaron. This story goes back to-I’m so fortunate that I got a chance to room with my childhood idol, and he asked me to come back-once I was out of the game and work with him. He called me three times before I finally said ok.
So I went back to the Braves and started coaching with the instruction league in the fall. I spent one year in the minor leagues, and Bobby Cox left there and went to Toronto, and I came along with Bobby. So I was a minor league coach for a year and then I ended up here with Bobby. And when Bobby left and went back to Atlanta, Jimy Williams took over, and then I took over for Jimmy and the rest is history.
So transitioning into the manager role, what made you want to become the skipper for the Jays?
Well actually, when Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick came to my house, I lived in Mississauga. So did Jimy and Pat. We had gotten off to a bad start that year, in 1989. We had a good team, just a bad start. And they surprised me. I got a call from Fran Brown, who was Pat’s secretary at the time. She told me to stay home and that Paul and Pat are going to stop by. I didn’t know what to think of that. I honestly thought I was going to be fired or something, but it turns out they just fired Jimy. So they came and asked me.
Paul Beeston said, “Cito we want you to manage the team.” And I was thinking that I was pretty happy at what I was doing. You know how most people go to work and aren’t happy about what they’re doing, but I was happy just being the hitting coach. So I told them, “No I don’t want to do it.” And Paul looked at me and said, “No, you it.” So I took the job, and it was a lot of stress because I had never managed before. Not only was I the hitting coach, but I was also the manager. I really got a crash course in learning and doing everything that season. My head was spinning because I’ve done so much, but I had fun. I still thank Paul Beeston to this day for letting me take that job.
While you were managing, you were most notable for leading Toronto to back-to-back World Series Championships. What was it like knowing you led your team to win it all?
When you go back-to-back you really find yourself getting on another bus to go to another parade. A lot of people don’t realize that a baseball team carries 25 guys on their roster, and we changed 14 guys from one year to the next and still won. You know, that a lot of guys give up a lot of time, and it’s really a grind every night. It was a great feeling to go out and win. It was two different kind of teams. The first year we had just about everything and the second year we kind of fought with people. We had some guys who were the best in the league for hitting, that was John Olerud, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar. In the end I think I enjoyed it more now then I did back then.
So after the 93′ season the team didn’t make the playoffs. In 97′ you got fired, what was your reaction to that news?
Well I was certainly hurt. I think I got fired too soon. But that’s in the past. Gord Ash is the one who fired me, but Gord and I are still friends to this day. So I think that he realized that he made a mistake. And we still talk to each other and are still good friends.
When you came back in 2008 to manage, was it a completely different feel for the game then you previously had?
It’s a different feel and different guys. When I came back in 2008, if we had a few more weeks, we could’ve won that division. We had a few guys kind of change. The next year it kind of went ok. It was really like we were starting a rebuild. We were a game or two of getting into the Postseason. I don’t know much about what’s going on now, but I do know that a lot of injuries have hurt this team this year and hopefully they can bounce back next year.
What do you think of the way John Gibbons is handling the situation in Toronto right now?
Well I think John is doing the best he can with what he has. When you don’t have a rotation, and you have one of your main guys on the bench because he’s hurt. I think when I was coaching we got pretty lucky in the health department. We stayed pretty healthy and you got a chance to win.
During your last stint with Toronto, you managed one of my personal heroes in Roy Halladay. What was he like as a player and as a person?
Doc was very dedicated to anything that he would do. I can remember him going to Hawaii and playing golf with a bunch of guys. Now Doc wasn’t much of a golfer. They beat him up pretty bad but he came back and learned the game. Anything that he put his mind to he could do it. We certainly miss him, will continue to miss him and what a competitor and workaholic he was. So I still think about him and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him.