Griffin: Gaston, Cox, Torre, Piniella honoured by MLB
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL-Four iconic retiring major-league managers were honoured on Tuesday morning at baseball's winter meetings, men that combined for eight World Series championships between 1990 and 2000. Major League Baseball still does some things right.
The four veteran managers on the way out included Lou Piniella (1990 Reds), Cito Gaston (1992-93 Jays), Bobby Cox (1995 Braves) and Joe Torre (1996, 1998-99-2000 Yankees). In the format of the press conference, they flanked event host, commissioner Bud Selig who was clearly enjoying the moment paying homage to four of the game's managerial giants. Cox was not present, having flown home the day before for a family matter, represented by John Schuerholz who one day might follow Pat Gillick into the Hall-of-Fame as a GM.
Gaston took his turn paying tribute to his fellow retirees seated on the dais, seemingly relaxed and happy to be playing more golf after his 2-1/2 year reprise as Jays' skipper.
“I haven't done a lot," Gaston said of his new role as senior advisor. "I think the club's in good hands. Alex (Anthopouos) is going to do a good job there. We'll just have to wait and see. It will be very interesting to see what goes on in spring training, how this team gets put together. Alex is going to go out and do the best he can.”
Upon further review, the event and the line of questioning seemed a move towards normalcy, a hopeful step forward, a leap, in fact, towards all sport becoming colour blind the fact that nobody from the media, either in the formal portion of the ceremony or in the Q&A asked Gaston about the significance of being the first African-American to manage a World Series winner. When it broke off into smaller groups, Cito was asked his opinion.
“That might be my only chance to get into the Hall-of-Fame," Gaston laughed when asked if he had noticed the acceptance. "One of these days when I'm dead they're going to go, 'Oh yeah, that guy, he was the first African-American to win a division, win a World Series.' I'll probably go in after it's all said and done, but it's going to be a long time."
In the last year, Cito has begun to be recognized for his pioneering accomplishments. A year ago he was given the Jackie Robinson Award for Career Achievement at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo. It is his highlight award to date. He still does not understand why he did not ever win a manager-of-the-year award or even finish high in balloting when he was winning World Series titles in the early '90s or when he took over a sub-.500 from Jimy Williams in '89 and took his team to the playoffs. Some 20 years later, Jim Tracy did the same thing with the Rockies and he was named Manager-of-the-Year.
“To received the Mr. Jackie Robinson Award it's like getting the World Series trophy," Gaston said. "Without Mr. Jackie Robinson, I wouldn't be standing here talking to you. I can imagine what he went through. I only had to go through a lttle bit of what he had to put up with, what he had to deal with and he did it with a lot of dignity. So I always, in my heart, will think of him and think of what he's done for the minorities.
"Now you can say (he helped) African-American, but you also can say some of the Latin managers. We have two African-American managers in baseball and we do have other minorities, but they're from Latin countries. The Negro Baseball Museum is something people should go see, take a tour and hear what it's about. I don't think sometimes some of the American ballplayers know the Negro League also helped this league survive."
Gaston recognizes that the the game's treatment of minorities has immeasurably improved, but like others that came up through the minors in the late '50s and early '60s, the scars will remain forever. When Gaston talks about it his eyes stll well up.
“It's come a long way," he admitted. "You can't imagine...you have to probably have walked in my footsteps to know what happened and how far it's come. To be celebrated with the commissioner asking us to come here and do the things we're doing today, it's hard to describe. I never thought about quitting. The one thing that I wanted to do was play professonal baseball in the big leagues, so it would have been real tough to walk away. You just have to take it and walk on and keep going."
Gaston talked about the moment when the Jays came to him and asked him about the possibility of taking over from Jimy Williams. Tellingly, when he gives credit for the opportunity to manage, he leaves Pat Gillck's name to third on the list.
"Paul Beeston gave me a chance at it and Mr. Peter Hardy, along with Pat Gillick," Gaston said. "I had no desire to do that. In fact when they asked me to take over as manager and I said, you know what, it's not too often you can come to work and enjoy what you're doing. I love to teach. I was the htting coach on that team. It was fun.
“But I have to go back to the late-great Sparky Anderson who really twisted my arm and said Cito take it and see what you can do with it. I had Sparky as a third base coach in San Diego, the first year of the expansion draft (in 1969), so there's a lot of people I should thank for pushing me towards being a manager and it's been a ball. If you haven't tried it and you get a chance, please do it."
As the season progressed this summer, it seemed Cito was having second thoughts about the decision to step down. But now, after two months away, he seems more resigned and at peace with the decision to play golf full time again.
“I'm glad it ended the way it did, with a win and a winning season," Gaston smiled. "As time goes on, I'll probably reflect on it a little bit more. You're not sitting in the first seat of that plane. You certainly don't have that suite anymore. You're going to miss the players and some of the coaches too, but right now I'm still in the organizaton, so I'll be around. I'll try to stay out of the way as much as I can but I will be around.”
Almost on cue, his replacement John Farrell walked into the press room, walked up and introduced the new manager to the old manager for the first time. They had never met. That senior advisor gig is unfolding very slowly.