Former Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons wasn’t sure he’d receive another MLB opportunity, thrilled about career coming full circle in Mets return

Photo credit:Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
Following a five-year hiatus, John Gibbons has returned and is ready for more as he prepares for his first season back in the majors, now as a bench coach with the New York Mets.
The 61-year-old joined first-year manager Carlos Mendoza’s coaching staff over the off-season, returning to Major League Baseball after serving as the Toronto Blue Jays’ skipper for six seasons from 2013-18. The club hired Charlie Montoyo as his replacement ahead of the 2019 campaign.
But now that he’s back, reuniting with the franchise that selected him 24th overall in 1980 as a player, Gibbons feels right at home in his element – and his fun-loving, always-entertaining personality remains just as charismatic as ever.
“The No. 1 thing I missed, man, is coming into the clubhouse, hanging out with the boys, the coaching staff, the players. I always missed the competition and hanging out with the guys. There’s something special about that,” Gibbons told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi in a recent interview.
“I did it for so long. I didn’t miss the B.S. But the game is different, there’s no doubt. A lot more preparation, stuff like that. I had some great coaches in Toronto. They did all the work, I just ran the game, basically. Now that I’m not in that role, everybody’s got a specific job, so my job really hasn’t even started yet.”
Before Gibbons arrived in Toronto in 2004, beginning his first of two stints as manager with the organization, which lasted five seasons prior to his ’08 mid-season firing, he appeared in 18 big-league games as a catcher with the Mets across the 1984 and ’86 seasons. But it was next to impossible to stick in the majors with superstar Gary Carter as New York’s starting backstop.
The former first-round selection served as a bullpen catcher during the club’s magical run to the ’86 World Series, receiving a championship ring for his efforts. Afterwards, he returned to the minors and, despite being a September call-up on a non-contending team, never appeared in a game before that season concluded.
So, as Gibbons told Davidi, he asked for a trade and was ultimately dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. He went on to play the next three seasons, all in the minors and with separate organizations – including the Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies – before deciding he had enough and announced his retirement following the ’90 season.
Gibbons had made his mind up, only he didn’t know what to do next. It wasn’t long before his phone rang, though. On the other end was the Mets, who were looking for a new catching instructor to take over for the retiring Vern Hoscheit, one of Gibbon’s former instructors. And he “jumped on that.”
Now, over 30 years later, after trips through the minor leagues with the Mets and San Diego Padres and big-league stints with the Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, he’s back where it all started, feeling eager to insert his wealth of old-school knowledge wherever needed in Queens.
“Mendy’s awesome,” he added. “I really, really like him. He’s going to be really good at this. And David Stearns [Mets president of baseball operations], he’s everything that everybody says. In a way, he’s a lot like Alex [Anthopolous, who was Gibbons’ general manager in Toronto and is now Atlanta’s president of operations]: Good baseball guy, he’ll listen to you. He doesn’t talk as much as Alex, but he cares what you think.”
Still, Gibbons wasn’t sure another major-league coaching opportunity would follow after his second tenure with the Blue Jays ended in 2018. And he felt OK about that.
The Great Falls, Montana, native accepted that his time in baseball might be finished. If so, he was ready to walk away from the sport that, professionally, he had been a part of for nearly four decades.
“At that point, I had a lot of things going on in my personal life, family life. It really wasn’t a focus, but I didn’t think I’d have problem finding a job because I had a lot of experience,” Gibbons detailed regarding his mindset after parting ways with the Blue Jays following the 2018 season. “But I was in a good spot where if it never happened again, so be it. I had an opportunity that most guys never get. So many people took care of me.”
Gibbons isn’t your modern-day baseball coach. There’s no secret about that. You’ll never find him carrying a binder full of spreadsheets or heat maps in the dugout. Nor will you hear him discussing advanced metrics or anything like that – all of which is part of the charm that made him loveable in Toronto.
The sport has dramatically changed since he entered pro ball in the early ’90s. But, as Gibbons will attest, there’s still a place in baseball for on-field experience.
Take the managers of the previous three World Series winners: Texas’ Bruce Bochy, Houston’s Dusty Baker and Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. They’re each cut from the same cloth as Gibbons, who hopes to have a similar impact on the Mets in 2024.
“I do think I got a reputation, and I even asked a couple of guys that interviewed me — I interviewed [for managerial openings] down in Houston and Boston and Miami — ‘Do I have the reputation of being anti-analytics?’ They said no, but I think I kind of got that and you never know what you hear from your ex-employers,” Gibbons said.
“I just never took it to the extremes. I’m really trying to learn it but I’m going to tell you, it still comes down to basic baseball, playing the game the right way, get the most out of what you’ve got and if you’ve got more talent than the other guys, you’re probably going to be all right.”
DeMarlo Hale, Gibbons’ former bench coach with the Blue Jays and now the club’s associate manager, vouched for his old boss during the Mets’ interview process. As did Tampa Bay Rays skipper Kevin Cash, who also spoke to his former AL East colleague this past winter. They each recommended him for New York’s vacant bench coach position.
Gibbons and Mendoza hit it off when they first spoke, with the former Yankees bench coach saying they “hit it off right away.” He added, “The knowledge, obviously, he’s been in the game for a long time, manager, he’s done it before. But the feel for people was the biggest piece for me. I’m excited to learn from him, because I’m going to be relying on him a lot.”
That feeling was mutual with Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns, who believes Gibbons will be a valuable presence for his rookie manager this season.
It’ll also serve as a trip down memory lane for his playing days, with several former Mets players such as Darryl Strawberry and, eventually, Edgardo Alfonzo – scheduled to arrive at the organization’s complex next week – incorporated during spring training activities.
“I spent more time with these guys than I did in Toronto, as far as the organization and the coaching, so there are a lot of good connections. I’ll see some old faces. I don’t remember all their names but it’s like, ‘Hey.’ Maybe it’s a good way to end it all. Go down in a blaze of glory, I guess. Or show them what they missed in the ’80s,” Gibbons said.
Nobody knows what the future holds beyond this season. But after being away from a big-league clubhouse for five years, Gibbons – a manager of 1,582 career big-league games, all with Toronto – is excited to be back.


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