TORONTO - Alex Anthopoulos put himself out on the proverbial limb by bringing John Gibbons back as the Blue Jays manager.
In the court of public opinion, the move was a controversial one at best.
The fan base, having been whipped into a frenzy of excitement due to the mega-trade with the Miami Marlins and the signing of free agent Melky Cabrera, was expecting Anthopoulos to hire a big-time, big-name manager, the likes of Joe Torre or Tony La Russa. They wanted a cherry on top of a sundae.
In Gibbons they receive a man of immense personal charm who has the ability to bring out the best in his players while earning their respect. He is a terrific and inspired choice.
For whatever reason, however, that Gibbons never connected with the populace and he is best remembered by them as the manager who challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight and got into a shoving match with starter Ted Lilly. They view him as a knuckle-dragging hot-head who finished his first tour with the Jays with a 305-305 record — plus no playoff games.
By bringing Gibbons back for a second run, Anthopoulos went with his instincts with the unintended consequence being that he has also taken the Blue Jays of 2013 off the hook.
If next year’s Jays, who have been bolstered by the likes of Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck through the Marlins’ trade and the additions of Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis through free agency, fall flat on their face it will not be the players who will be held accountable in the fan’s eye, but Gibbons and Anthopoulos.
Gibbons will get no free pass.
You have to applaud Anthopoulos, though, for his gutsy decision. The easy one would have been to bring in a veteran retread such as Mike Hargrove, Jim Tracy or Jim Riggleman.
Instead, Anthopoulos made the tough one, the one that brings him the most risk and an avalanche of criticism if it doesn’t end in a post-season berth.
“I have more conviction in this hiring than I’ve had in any,” Anthopoulos said emphatically Tuesday. “I can sleep like a baby at night because I know it’s the right decision.”
In selecting Gibbons, Anthopoulos showed that the wounds of the John Farrell fiasco had cut deep and he was determined, emboldened, not to repeat his mistake. He would never again make a safe, predictable, expected hire, but one that he felt in his gut was the right one.
And that right one for him was Gibbons. With his mind made up, Anthopoulos moved with haste. He contacted the San Diego organization at the end of last week, brought Gibbons into town on the weekend and signed him pronto to a two-year deal plus options late Monday.
While Gibbons conceded his signing could be viewed as risky, Anthopoulos believes in his heart it’s a risk worth taking.
“I always reflect on transactions, on what we do on our process and so on. The one thing, even this past season, you go through a rough year, you reflect even more, you try to see where you can improve, where things went wrong,” Anthopoulos said. “The one thing, on some self-reflection on my end, the things I’ve regretted most in my time as the general manager, the decisions that I’ve made, are the decisions where I didn’t follow my instincts — that I’ve made (decisions) and I haven’t done it very often, very few times but I have done it a few times — I’ve made decisions on what the optics might be, what the perception might be, how the media might react and those are the decisions that have bothered me the most.
“The other decisions that I’ve made that I felt good about are the ones — I remember many times with certain transactions walking into Paul’s (Beeston) office saying: ‘I really believe we need to do this. We’re going to get killed for it, it’s not going to look good.’ But at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do and in the long run I believe they ended up being the right things to do.”
He said that was exactly what went through his mind when he thought about bringing Gibbons back.
“Ultimately the first reaction with Gibby could be: ‘You know what, bringing somebody from the past, what’s the perception going to be?’ I stopped myself and said: ‘That’s not what this is about.’ It’s about making the right decision. I’m in this chair to do what I believe is right.”
Anthopoulos was quick to add that optics and perception weren’t behind the Farrell hire, but given the passion he displayed on Tuesday you have to wonder.
As for Gibbons, he was thunderstruck.
“This came as a big surprise to me,” Gibbons said. “It’s really a thrill and an honour to be back. I never would have guessed that this could happen ... To go out on a limb and bring back an individual who was here a few years ago is a big thing for them. It’s not easy to do.”
For Anthopoulos, though, it was as easy as pie.
STANDING UP TO HILLENBRAND A POSITIVE
John Gibbons isn’t particularly proud of how he dealt with problems he had with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly in the past.
In his first life as the Jays manager, Gibbons challenged Hillenbrand to a fight after the latter wrote that “the ship is sinking” on the clubhouse chalkboard. He and Lilly got into it after Gibbons removed the left-hander from a game.
On Tuesday at his news conference following his re-hiring, Gibbons said he handled the situations poorly.
Anthopoulos, though, was quick to jump in and say he didn’t have a problem with either incident. In fact, he was proud of Gibbons both times.
“We’ve talked about that and I don’t have a problem with it. I actually look on it as a strong point,” Anthopoulos said. “The reason being, what happened with Shea Hillenbrand — he better be confronted and sometimes with a manager at times, it needs to be done in front of his teammates. I don’t know any other way to deal with that.
“I know it didn’t reflect who he (Gibbons) was, we know he’s a great guy and easy to play for but if you push, he will react. It doesn’t define him but it shows if you do push and he has to react he will react and I think it’s important.”
One of the criticisms of Farrell’s two season was that sloppy play and mistakes and bad decisions weren’t addressed.