By Murray McCormick, Regina Leader-Post
As a manager, Cito Gaston left his imprint on the Toronto Blue Jays and Major League Baseball.
Gaston guided the Blue Jays to four American League East Division championships, two American League pennants and back-to-back World Series titles (in 1992 and 1993).
“When it was going on, I never really thought about it,’’ Gaston, who is to be the guest speaker at the Regina Red Sox Dinner and Sports Auction on April 29, said from his home in Oldsmar, Fla.
“If I look back now, I was surely part of history. It’s never going to change being the first Afro-American to win four division championships, two pennants and then two World Series. I’m very proud of that. It’s something that will be with me long after I leave.’’
Gaston established his legacy while spending his entire 12-year managerial career with the Blue Jays. He joined the Blue Jays in 1982 as a hitting coach and was promoted to his first stint as manager in 1989. He remained in that role until being fired after the 1997 season. Gaston later managed the Blue Jays in 2008, 2009 and 2010 before retiring.
Along with the pennants, Gaston had a regular-season record of 894-837 and a winning percentage of .516. Throughout his time with the Blue Jays, he earned a reputation as a players’ manager while exhibiting an outwardly calm demeanour.
“I was a teacher too and I never stopped teaching how to play the game,’’ said Gaston, 73. “When the game started I was pretty calm and cool. You have to be calm and not panic. If you’re the leader and you panic, then your players will panic.’’
Gaston was involved with the Blue Jays when the team made stops at Taylor Field in 1989 and 1993 to play exhibition games against the National Baseball Institute Blues. The 1989 game took place on May 11. Three days later, after the Blue Jays’ record fell to 12-24, Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams was fired and Gaston was named the replacement.
While Gaston is proud of each championship with the Blue Jays, he takes particular pride in what happened in 1989. Toronto rallied to finish the season with an 89-73 record (77-49 under Gaston) and win the AL East title.
Toronto continued to enjoy success under Gaston, finishing second in the division in 1990 and winning division titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
“The 1989 team was one of the most fun teams that I have ever managed,’’ Gaston said. “I took over from Jimy and we came back to win the division. That was a team that could manufacture runs anytime we wanted to. All of the teams that I’ve had, you have to adapt as a manager and go from there.’’
Gaston maintained ties to the Blue Jays when he returned as the hitting coach (1999-2001). In 2002, he was named a special assistant to president and CEO Paul Godfrey and later returned as the field manager. Gaston retired as a manager after the 2010 season, but later returned as a consultant. He retired from that position after the 2015 season and now just follows the Blue Jays as a fan.
Gaston understands the team’s struggles in the early part of the 2017 season are a letdown for fans after the Blue Jays reached the American League championship series in 2015 and 2016.
“No one is going to give up right now because it’s a long season if you do,’’ Gaston said. “Why show up if you don’t want to win or aren’t trying to win? You have to keep a positive attitude and see how it plays out. They still have a lot of games left.’’