Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Josh Fisher
Could you maintain harmony amongst a group of 25 players and coaches over the course of a 162-game season? Throw in a semi-lengthy spring-training and (if you are lucky) a postseason appearance, we are talking about the same group working and traveling together from early February through October; about nine-months. Nine-months of winning and losing, day-in and day-out. Nine-months of traveling from Toronto to Tampa Bay to Seattle, back to Toronto then to Chicago for a back-to-back series against the Cubs and White Sox. Nine-months of sporadic family time. Some guys don’t speak English. Some guys have never played pro ball before. Some guys flat out do not like each other. With all these obstacles, it’s your job to maintain a culture in the clubhouse, across this period of time, that results in your club winning far more than it loses…and if it’s the other way around, your job’s in jeopardy. Could you handle it?
Between the laughs and stories, the biggest takeaway from our show with former Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was the challenging and important role of the manager in the clubhouse. Setting lineups, calling shifts, and changing pitchers is just the tip of the iceberg. Maintaining an environment amongst the varied personalities of competitive players, often from vastly different backgrounds, remains the true challenge.
Watching clips of Gibbons’ numerous in game ejections, it is easy to laugh as we see him repeatedly being sent to showers; it is easy to label to him as “hot-headed.” But when you ask the jovial Gibbons, whose calm southern voice makes the 49-minute YouTube video of him getting repeatedly tossed even more shocking, about why he got the boot from the diamond at record rates, he laughs. To him it was never about putting on a show or intentionally getting sent off, for Gibbons it was all about going to war for his players. It was about setting a tone and stating with his action “if you fight for me, I’ll fight for you…no hesitation.” Not many people can contain the fiery personalities of players like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. Fewer can control, maintain, and grow the fires within these types of players, helping them develop from “power-hitter” to “All-Star,” from “All-star,” to “MVP.”
Does John Gibbons claim ownership of his player’s success? No, and he certainly would not say he does. But how often do we toss-out the comment of “oh wow, that player benefited from a change of scenery?” Donaldson was an All-star but not an MVP. And yes, batting in front of Joey ‘Bats’ and Encarnacion certainly didn’t hurt. But living and plying within the ‘vibe’ Gibbons set for that Blue Jays team clearly made a difference. Going to the ballpark everyday with the mindset “it doesn’t matter if we’re down 10-1 in the 9th, with our bats we got a shot,” must make it easier to do your thing, and mash. That care-free confidence instilled in the Toronto clubhouse started at the top. Gibbons stressed team and lineup, taking pressure off ‘his guys’ to get a hit with each at bat, infusing the belief that every guy in the lineup could pick up the batter before them. This allowed those Jays to be calm and relaxed in the box. And ask ballplayer…there is no better time to hit when you are in that relaxed mindset.
Tass, Nick, and I, as fans of the game, loved that Jays team. They did not win it all, but they won often and, importantly, made the game fun to watch. Gibbons’ Blue jays positively impacted the game leaving a footprint that evidenced both the skills of the players as well as the team’s winning vibe The mid-2010’s Jays were competitive, tough, and energized; if you know baseball, you know that to be true. When John left our zoom call, the three of us still wanted to “get beers with that guy.” It was that sense of camaraderie that oozed out of Gibbons, even in a virtual setting, that instantly revealed the managerial traits that set the tone for the “round-tripping Jays”.
I’ve often focused solely on the ‘in-game’ duties of a manager. John Gibbons, our special guest on Sode 254 of “The Charity Stripe Podcast” reminded me and the TCS crew that being a good manager is far more than what happens between the lines. Managing a major league ball club is not just honing the focus of 25 guys for 162 games, it is uniting a team of often vastly different men toward one purpose for nine uninterrupted months.
“You can make all the moves in the world, and people will say ‘oh well you can’t lose now,’ but they got to come together too, they got to gel. They got to be able to function together, and play as a team.”
- John Gibbons