Cito Gaston is looking to recapture the glory days in Toronto. The most successful manager in franchise history, having skippered the Blue Jays to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, Gaston returned for his second tour of duty when he replaced John Gibbons at the helm on June 20. The team’s hitting instructor from 1982-1989, and again in 2000-2001, Gaston was serving as a special assistant to the president and CEO at the time of his hiring. An outfielder during his playing days, the 64-year-old Gaston previously managed the Jays from 1989-1997.
David Laurila: How would you describe Cito Gaston’s managerial style?
Cito Gaston: My style goes according to the team I have. I don’t think you can fit yourself into one style; the sort of the team that you have, that’s your managerial style. Whether you have a team that goes base to base or depends on the big home run, or if you have a speed team where you want to do a lot of hitting-and-running or stealing, you want to try to be a couple of innings ahead of what you have to do.
DL: Do you have a favorite style of baseball-for instance, the National League-style game you were a part of as a player in the 1970s?
CG: I played in the National League for 10 years, and of course when I was in the National League, I thought that we were so much better than the American League. But I’ve been over here now for twenty-some years, and I like this style of ball. I really do. I like the American League style of ball better as far as excitement.
DL: Why did you return to managing this season?
CG: Well, J.P. called and asked if I’d come back to help out, and it was a no-brainer for me. I’ve lived in Toronto for 20 years and I love the city of Toronto. I was a hitting instructor here for nine years, and I managed for nine, so this is my team. I mean, if there’s any team I’d ever pull for, it’s the Blue Jays.
DL: Is there anything different about the game, or your view of the game, compared to when you last managed in 1997?
CG: So many people try to play this game differently, but it’s played pretty much the same. I do think that the money in the game has changed; there’s a lot of money now, which makes things a little more expensive. There are a lot of things off the field, too. Guys are certainly more able to do things they couldn’t do before, but as far as the game itself, it hasn’t changed.
DL: Walking into the clubhouse and dealing with your players is essentially no different than it was 10 years ago?
CG: No, not at all. Still pretty much the same problems. You talk to most managers, and when you get to the ballpark every day you’re going to have a problem somewhere. You just prepare yourself for it, knowing that when you walk in there’s always going to be something going on.
DL: Unlike Bobby Cox, who used a lot of platoons, you primarily stayed with the same lineup when you managed in the 1990s. Was that approach [yours], or was it more dictated by roster makeup?
CG: It’s what you have. The last year we won our division… something a lot of people don’t realize is that from 1992 to 1993 we changed 14 players and still came back and won. What you have is what you have to deal with.
DL: Who most influenced the way you think as a manager?
CG: Preston Gomez, Bobby Cox; those two guys.
DL: The Jays have struggled this year offensively. What can you as a manager, and Gene Tenace as a hitting coach, do to impact the team’s hitting production?
CG: We just want to change their approach as far as when they go to the plate. We’d like to have everybody on this team have a plan when they walk up there. There are millions of dollars spent on information like how pitchers try to get hitters out; pitchers have a plan as to how they’re going to get you out, or get you to get yourself out, and we should have a counteractive plan to that. I’ve always believed that you can dictate what you want to hit if you’re patient enough. So we just want the guys to have an idea when they walk up to that plate, and it’s going to take awhile, but some of the guys are coming around.
CG: You know, I just spent about an hour and a half with Walter. Walt Hriniak is kind of like my brother; we spent a lot of time playing baseball together. And I played for Charlie Lau, who was a great guy to play for. I can add him to that list of managers, because of the way he treated his players. But as for their philosophy, the one thing I liked about what they did, as far as hitting, is that they made sure that guys kept their head on the ball over the plate. And that’s big, because if you move your head in any sport, like playing golf, you’re not going to be quite as successful.
DL: As a hitting coach, you had Cecil Fielder before he moved on to Detroit and began to put up big power numbers. What made the difference for him?
CG: He got a chance to play. Cecil went to Japan first, then Detroit got him and he got a chance to play. You know, Cecil used to come to see me all the time when we played against Detroit, and if anything was going wrong with his swing he would come by and ask me about it. I’d tell him to come see me the last day, when the game was over, and I’d let him know. But really, it was just him getting a chance to play.
DL: When you look back at the hitters you worked with in Toronto, are there specific guys that you feel you had a real impact on?
CG: I think there are a lot of guys: Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, Cecil Fielder, Fred McGriff, George Bell, Roberto Alomar. But you know, maybe I affected them in that they had a plan when they walked to the plate, but they did it all themselves. You can only say and do so much; the player is the one who really has to do it. So I don’t want to take any credit for that, I’m just proud that they gave me a chance by listening to what I had to say and then taking it out to work for them on the field.
CG: I didn’t play with them that long, but they were good teammates. And for some reason, we had a lot of guys come out of the Braves organization to become managers. They’re some of my favorite people.
DL: When you look in your own clubhouse, do you see any future managers and coaches?
CG: Yeah, you can see that. There are guys around, like David Eckstein; he could be a good coach or manager one of these days. That’s just pointing out one guy, because I’ve only been here a couple of months, but you can see it.
DL: You played with Bob Uecker. Are guys like him good for clubhouse chemistry?
CG: They are, and Bob Uecker was absolutely hysterical in the clubhouse. He was funny, while guys like Hank [Aaron] led by the way he went out and played. So you can have two kinds of guys in the clubhouse. I had Paul Molitor, and he led in the way he played. Dave Winfield also led in the way he played, but he was also very forceful in the clubhouse; he’d be kicking guys’ butts if something went down that he didn’t think was right. Along with Jack Morris. It just depends. I don’t ask anybody to police my clubhouse, but sometimes it happens; sometimes players take it upon themselves to do that.
DL: Most people look at what you’ve accomplished as a manager, but you also had a pretty good playing career. What is most memorable from your playing days?
CG: I think that it would be having an opportunity to play with and room with my childhood idol, which was Hank Aaron. It would be that, and making the All-Star team. Of course, it means a lot that I won the two World Series [as a manager].