The Untouchable Cito
In his first go 'round with the Blue Jays, Cito Gaston could never get reasonable credit for his work, even when it resulted in two world championships. For years, the call-in shows featured caller after caller lamenting Gaston's managing abilities and wondering what the club would be capable of if Tony LaRussa, say, was in charge.
It was terribly unfair. Never really made much sense.
Curiously, however, what we're hearing and seeing these days is the reverse juice of those years and the way in which Gaston is regarded in the Toronto sports culture.
Now he doesn't win. And he can do no wrong. Caller after caller on the radio shows skewer J.P. Ricciardi, with Vernon Wells a close second, yet Gaston remains untouched.
Speculation is rampant over whether Ricciardi will be back, or whether Paul Beeston will translate his interim presidential status into something more permanent.
But there's little debate on whether Gaston should be back, or is the right man to lead this franchise. The closest we've heard is Cito himself suggesting he might like to have more time to play golf, but hardly ruling out another year in the dugout.
Since winning the '93 World Series, Gaston's managerial record is less than scintillating, with a .463 winning percentage in parts of six major league seasons with no playoff berths. Gaston's Jays winning percentage from '94-today is worse than Jim Fregosi (.515) and John Gibbons (.500) during their respective terms in office.
Yet both Fregosi and Gibbons were chased out of town, while Gaston has gone from No. 1 scapegoat in the winning years to Mr. Untouchable in the losing years.
Never an unkind word is said any more about the manager who once never got nearly the credit he deserved. He is part of the corporate Rogers program to sucker Blue Jay fans into focusing on the past rather than the current state of affairs, a program that includes Beeston, the ugly blue "vintage" uniforms worn on Friday nights and the recent "anniversary" celebrations of the '92 and '93 champions.
Gaston's classy, laid back demeanor has something to do with his teflon status in his second stint as Jays manager, as does his obvious affection for the city compared to Ricciardi, who prefers not to live here. But perhaps it's more about the fact that every unsuccessful team - and even some successful ones - have to have a lightning rod for criticism.
On a team blessed with talent, Gaston was that lightning rod.
On a team mired in mediocrity, others get that dubious honor. And he just cruises, with essentially no ongoing examination of his work and it's results.