Toronto signed manager to extension through 2019 with option for '20
By Richard Justice
To spend five minutes with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is to understand why he's so good at his job. He's instantly likable and relentlessly positive. Gibbons deals with angry players and happy players pretty much the same way.
Gibbons tells them he believes in them. He focuses on the things they do well and minimizes the things they don't. Gibbons smiles and wisecracks. When there's a tough decision to be made, he tells them he's just trying to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the team.
How would you like to have a boss like this? That is, a boss who has your back. A boss who tells you that you have talent.
Is there more to the job than that? Absolutely. In some ways, though, it's more a people business than it has ever been before.
Gibbons, 54, is in many ways the prototype of what a successful manager must be in 2017, and that's why Toronto announced Saturday morning that the club extended his contract for two years through '19, with an option for '20.
This announcement is a tribute to a whole bunch of things. First, there's Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro. He and his general manager, Ross Atkins, did not hire Gibbons. Former general manager Alex Anthopoulos did.
Almost from the moment Shapiro and Atkins arrived 18 months ago, there had been speculation they would hire their own guy. This would be normal.
Shapiro constructed what is widely viewed as a model front office in Cleveland, and he has a strong sense of how he thinks things are supposed to work. He surely had a working list of "his guys."
But Shapiro did what the very best executives almost always do. That is, he did nothing. Shapiro and Atkins got to know Gibbons. They spent hours with him and watched how he did his job.
They saw Gibbons lead the Blue Jays to a second straight postseason appearance and they saw the respect his players had for him. They were impressed by his poise and judgment.
In the end, Shapiro and Atkins decided they could not find someone better to manage their baseball team, and rather than have the final year of Gibbons' contract as a potential distraction, Saturday's announcement amounts to a ringing endorsement.
If that sounds improbable, it's nothing compared to the journey Gibbons took back to Toronto.
Between 2004-08, Gibbons managed the Blue Jays for 600 games. Then he was dismissed 74 games into the '08 season.
"I was fine with it," Gibbons said later. "I was disappointed, but I was also thankful for the opportunity."
Gibbons then did what baseball men always do. He found another gig. Gibbons was a bench coach in Kansas City for three years. He then returned to the Double-A Texas League to manage his hometown team in San Antonio.
"I loved it," Gibbons said. "I liked working with those young guys, and I got to live at home."
To translate: When you've put on a baseball uniform for most of your adult life, it's what you know and what you love more than almost anything.
Then a funny thing happened in Toronto. Anthopoulos was hired as general manager, and in looking for someone to manage the club, he kept thinking about Gibbons, whom he had known for years.
Anthopoulos thought Gibbons' easygoing nature and his competitive fire might be a perfect fit. He asked Gibbons to fly to Toronto and chat. They ended up talking for hours. About baseball. About life.
Anthopoulos warned Gibbons that his hiring wouldn't be popular with fans, and it wasn't.
But then something else happened. Toronto got really good. Gibbons will tell you that everything changed in the spring of 2015, when third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin walked through the door for the first time.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki would arrive at the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and suddenly, the Blue Jays were a power.
They won the American League East in 2015 -- Toronto hadn't been to the postseason in 22 years -- and have been to the AL Championship Series two years in a row.
In the past three seasons, the Blue Jays have won 265 regular-season games, second only to the Orioles in the AL. Toronto will be in the mix again in 2017, even though Edwin Encarnacion took his 42 home runs to Cleveland.
Here's the thing to remember about managing a Major League team in 2017. It's not the same job that Earl Weaver or Sparky Anderson had. More than ever, it's about managing people, the environment and the bullpen.
Managers have reams of data to assist them with lineups, matchups, defensive alignments and the like. What does that leave for the manager? Plenty.
His job is to get every player to pull on the same end of the rope whether he's hitting cleanup or sitting at the end of the bench.
What is unforgivable: a lack of effort. What is more unforgivable: clubhouse grumbling, backstabbing, etc.
If a player is batting ninth when he's convinced he should be second, the manager has to explain his decision thoughtfully and concisely.
This is what Gibbons does best. His players know he has their back and that everything he does is in the best interest of the Toronto Blue Jays.
That's why Shapiro and Atkins want Gibbons to remain on the job a while longer. They like him and trust him, and they are pretty sure he's absolutely the right man to lead their team.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.