|New manager John Gibbons may be best remembered for fighting with players in his first stint in Toronto. (Getty Images)|
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is known for pulling off some hellacious surprises, so he must really be enjoying this winter. There was of course the 12-player, three-star, $166 million blockbuster with the Marlins that is understandably being hailed in Ontario, and then there was the $16 million, two-year deal with controversial Melky Cabrera, who authored one of the starkest up-and-down individual seasons in baseball history.
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But Tuesday, the mysterious young Anthopoulos topped even himself.
Word had been going around for a few days Anthopoulos was going to hire a "veteran manager with an edge," but Anthopoulos prides himself on his ability to fool the media.
Once again, Anthopoulos fooled us all (until Toronto writer Bob Elliott, a veteran with a doggedness but little edge, uncovered the Gibbons mystery late Monday night). This is a hiring so far outside the box that you can't even see the box from there.
Gibbons most certainly has an edge. But no one guessed Gibbons. One veteran Toronto scribe, Richard Griffin, said Gibbons wouldn't have been in his first 50 guesses.
Nor anyone else's, Rich.
There is a reason for that. Gibbons managed in Toronto from 2004-08, when his two most notable rivals were his own players, one whom he fought and another he almost fought. Maybe Gibbons deserves a second chance (or third, depending on how one looks at it).
Toronto does like to bring people back. Cito Gaston, the team's most successful manager, came back for a Cito II. Anthopoulos even apparently tried to have a Bobby Cox II.
But after being fired as Royals bench coach in 2011, Gibbons seemed to have fallen off the managerial radar. That doesn't necessarily make him a bad candidate, just a surprise candidate. Although some whose opinions were sought leaned toward the negative.
"I don't understand the lure of John Gibbons," one rival GM said. "All he did was [tick] off Ted Lilly."
"The AL East has some real managing stars. Joe Maddon. Buck Showalter. Joe Girardi. Even Toronto's old guy, John Farrell," the rival continued. "I'd say Gibbons is fifth." (For those not mathematically inclined, there are only five.)
Gibbons II may work out -- his record the first time wasn't terrible; in fact, it was exactly .500 (305-305) -- but the early reviews of this hire are, shall we say, less than flattering. About the best thing anyone I asked Tuesday called it was "a real head scratcher."
The thing is, Gibbon is best remembered for the fight he had with Lilly, the seemingly even-tempered pitcher. Or if not, perhaps it was a fight he almost had with infielder Shea Hillenbrand.
At the least, the Blue Jays got themselves someone with plenty of fight in him.
The first skirmish he won by unanimous decision, as Hillenbrand was designated for assignment immediately after declining to fight Gibbons. During a losing stretch, Hillenbrand wrote on a clubhouse blackboard "the ship was sinking," and Gibbons took it hard. Hillenbrand said at the time, "He challenged me to a fight, and wanted me to get up and punch him in the face."
"That's a fact," Gibbons responded at the time. "If the front office felt differently, then he wins and I lose, and I would be the one out of here. I mean it. It was either him or me."
Later in that 2006 season, Gibbons got his fight. This time he lost by TKO.
After Lilly yelled at Gibbons on the mound as the manager was removing him from a rough effort, Gibbons was seen following Lilly up the dugout tunnel, with cameramen there at the time saying Gibbons pushed Lilly. Gibbons later was seen having his bloodied nose wiped by a trainer's towel.
"Gibbons just went at him," Canadian Press photographer Aaron Harris said at the time. "It looked like Gibbons grabbed him and they disappeared. Then the whole dugout emptied. ... It was mayhem down in the tunnel."
Seeing as how a fight that followed by only a few months a near-fight might not be applauded, Gibbons was contrite the second time. "I overreacted, no question about that,"Gibbons said then. "I'm not proud of that. That's not who I am."
When word was getting around over the weekend the Blue Jays were going to hire a "veteran with an edge" several names came to mind.
Lou Piniella, a World Series winner with a fabulous resume, for instance. But the Blue Jays had not called the Yankees, where Piniella is announcing.
Larry Bowa, who has burnished his reputation with his shoot-from-the-hip honesty on MLB Network and his close relationship with MLB big Joe Torre, also had his name come up. But he wasn't called.
Jim Fregosi, who could made it a Fregosi II in Toronto, would have been logical. But alas, he hadn't been called either.
Bobby Valentine, who had many good seasons before that last rough one in Boston, also wasn't a candidate.
Cox didn't want to leave his consulting job and semi-retirement with the Braves. DeMarlo Hale, Sandy Alomar Jr., Tim Wallach and Brad Ausmus apparently didn't have enough experience for a job that carries a "win now" tag after all the acquisitions.
Gibbons has experience, all right. He's 305-305 as a major-league manager … and 1-1 in skirmishes with players.