Former Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons details discourse with Atkins, Shapiro: ‘If I’m going down, I’m going down fighting’

Thomas Hall
1 year ago
As it turns out, things became very tense between Toronto’s front office and former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons during the 2018 campaign, his final season with the franchise.
Gibbons, who spent two stints as the club’s manager, the first from 2004-08 and the second from 2013-18, explored his relationship with team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins in his new book Gibby: Tales of a Baseball Lifer, which is scheduled to release next month.
The memoir, co-written with author Greg Oliver, discusses the 60-year-old’s baseball life as both a player and manager. And as you might expect, it includes some juicy nuggets involving his swan song with the Blue Jays, particularly his encounterings with Shapiro and Atkins.
Amidst the second season of a rebuild, where Toronto finished 73-89, Gibbons became furious with his new bosses after he learned about a potential rumour being leaked to test the waters of his eventual firing. After that, the veteran skipper knew he was playing on borrowed time.
“Things got tense between me and Ross and I knew I was done after the season,” Gibbons writes. “I was ready, but if we’re going to do this before the season’s over, how about a little respect? One thing you should know about me by now is if I’m going down, I’m going down fighting.”
Toronto signed Gibbons to a contract extension in April 2017, which ran through the 2019 season and featured a team option for 2020. So while he wouldn’t be back to finish his deal, knowing the team had to pay him regardless made enduring a stressful 2018 campaign much more tolerable.
“It made me think back to a phrase that (former Jays president) Paul Beeston taught me: ‘Screw you money.’ I asked him what that meant. He said, ‘Well, you’re guaranteed that money, so you can always say screw you. That money’s coming to me anyway. Get rid of me,’” Gibbons recalled.
And that is exactly what the Blue Jays did. Both sides mutually parted ways following the 2018 season, with the team ultimately hiring Charlie Montoyo as his replacement. Montoyo, of course, was fired midway through last season and replaced by John Schneider, who agreed to a three-year contract extension last October.
Gibbons, meanwhile, believes his future was in jeopardy the minute Shapiro walked in the door in November 2015. Not long after, he started hearing rumours that the Blue Jays team president was already considering a managerial change and that he wasn’t a part of the organization’s long-term outlook.
Even so, Gibbons managed to stay on for three full seasons under Shapiro – an accomplishment he didn’t think would come to fruition.
“People just talk,” Gibbons writes. “Shapiro had mentioned upon his arrival in ’15 – to some pretty good sources that I trusted – that he may get rid of me, that he didn’t think I’d be a part of their plans. It really didn’t bother me hearing that, because I know how the game worked.
“To actually hang in there as long as I did with a new regime is kind of unusual.”
Following consecutive playoff appearances in 2015 and ’16, the Blue Jays organization reached a tipping point. Do they run it back for one more season? Or began an inevitable rebuild? Though the 2017 season started with the former, it ended up finishing with the latter.
After watching franchise icon Edwin Encarnación sign as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians, now Guardians, the roster teardown commenced as management traded Jason Grilli, Joe Smith and Francisco Liriano – a deal that landed them two-time Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernandez – that summer. They also didn’t re-sign fellow icon José Bautista over the off-season.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Blue Jays traded Josh Donaldson, Roberto Osuna, Curtis Granderson, Seunghwan Oh and John Axford in 2018, removing significant pieces from the club’s roster. Most of those decisions, however, occurred without including Gibbons in the process.
“It was truly so different for me than it had been working with (former GMs J.P. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos). Decisions were made, and not only was I not consulted, but they directly changed how I operated,” Gibbons reveals.
The situation around Gibbons continued to change, on and off the field, as the Blue Jays introduced their high-performance department. That meant meeting someone new almost every day and investing resources into an area far from his level of expertise.
“There was a lot of hiring going on and every time you turned around, it seemed like you bumped into somebody new,” Gibbons wrote jokingly. “Now I knew why we couldn’t sign Eddie or Jose — we had to pay all these new people.”
No matter how things played out, Gibbons – featuring a 793-789 career record across 1,582 games with the Blue Jays – has no regrets about his time with Canada’s lone MLB franchise. Despite being a Great Falls, Montana native and growing up in Texas, Gibby will always consider himself an honourary Canadian.
“Toronto was a pretty special place,” Gibbons writes. “I have never spoken with anybody that, after they finished playing in Toronto, did not like it. In fact, they loved it. Zero complaints.”


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