The winning coach in Sunday's Super Bowl will receive numerous congratulatory phone calls, and one of them will be from the first African-American to capture the ultimate victory in Major League Baseball. "I don't have their phone numbers yet, but I'll get 'em," Cito Gaston said Friday. In 1992, Gaston managed the Toronto Blue Jays to the first of two consecutive World Series championships. Therefore, he can understand the historical significance of Super Bowl XLI in Miami better than most.
For the first time in National Football League history, an African-American head coach guided his team to the championship game. Actually, make that two coaches: Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears are both African-American. "This is the first Super Bowl I won't lose," Gaston laughed. "Usually, every fan has a team he wants to win. I'll be rooting for both of those guys. The way I see it, I'll win no matter who wins. It will be a great day for me -- and all [African-Americans] -- just to sit here in front of my TV and watch history unfold." Gaston said he is extremely proud and happy for both coaches, saying Dungy and Smith have shown "just how great of coaches they are, getting their players to play hard for them." Reflecting on his own journey to the World Series championship, Gaston said the media attention that October wasn't nearly as much on him becoming the first African-American to manage a Fall Classic game as it was on the fact it also marked the first time a World Series game was played outside of the United States and under a retractable-roof stadium. "I really don't remember [ethnicity] being talked about that much," he said. "I think this is different because of both guys being minority coaches. It's something that should be brought out because it's history, but once it is brought out, maybe people won't even think about it when it happens again." Since Gaston's milestone, former San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker has managed a team into the World Series. He guided the Giants to within a whisker of the 2002 Fall Classic title against the Angels. The Giants lost Game 6 despite having a five-run lead midway through the contest and would then go on to lose Game 7 as well. Gaston recalled that the first game he managed against the Baltimore Orioles in 1989 created more media attention than either of the World Series appearances. "Frank Robinson was the Orioles manager and it was the first time two black managers managed against each other," he said. "Yeah, that was a big deal," said Robinson, who became the first African-American manager in Major League history in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians.
Robinson also believes this Super Bowl is more than just another AFC vs. NFC championship game."For an African-American to take his team to the Super Bowl for the first time is great," Robinson said. "For two African-Americans to do it at the same time is phenomenal. "But that is what I expect of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. They have the talent within themselves to be able to coach a team into the Super Bowl, and I'm really proud of both of them." Gaston is proud of his own accomplishments, too. He also was the first African-American manager to win a division championship in 1989, edging the Robinson-managed Orioles by two games, and the first to win a league title ('92). "What I did made me part of history," Gaston said, "and the more I get away from it, the more I enjoy it. I'm proud of what I have done, but I don't walk around with my chest out. "I think it changed a lot of people's lives more than it changed mine. It gave other minorities a chance to coach or manage, but neither compares to what Jackie Robinson did for all of us. He gave us a chance to play in the Major Leagues and eventually coach and manage."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.