Cito Gaston’s Underrated Excellence | Back-To-Back Bro Did What His Legendary Predecessors Could Not

Cito Gaston’s Underrated Excellence | Back-To-Back Bro Did What His Legendary Predecessors Could Not

Before Dusty Baker, Dave Roberts, and Ron Washington led their squads to the Fall Classic, one man laid the blueprint for their postseason success.

Before GM’s Bob Watson and Kenny Williams were handed their World Series trophies, the quiet man in Toronto helped pave the way for their glory.

 

 

Cito Gaston Is An MLBbro Legend 

 

 

The name of Clarence Edwin “Cito” Gaston doesn’t get mentioned as one of the game’s best managers of his day and that’s unfortunate. They’ll say he wasn’t a fiery competitor like a Billy Martin or an Earl Weaver. Or he wasn’t a great tactician like a Bruce Bochy or a Gene Mauch.

That being said, all Mr. Gaston did was win, win, win, and did I mention, win? From 1989 through 1997, the Texas native led the Toronto Blue Jays to four AL Eastern Division crowns, two pennants as well as back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

 

 

In the process, Gaston became the first Black manager to win a World Series. At the time of Gaston’s tenure, you’d have to go back to the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds and 1977-78 New York Yankees to see a team that repeated as World Series champions.

 

Since Cito’s feat 30 years ago, only one team has won back-to-back titles. The Yankees three-peated from 98-2000.

 

Born in San Antonio, Gaston was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1964 and played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Braves, San Diego Padres, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

Gaston would make his Major League Baseball debut in 1967 with the now-Atlanta Braves for a season. The following season, Gaston signed with the San Diego Padres in an expansion draft and started playing with the team in 1969. 

 

Cito Gaston Wins Padres MVP In 1970 

 

 

His finest campaign came with the Padres in 1970, when he hit .318 with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs, earning himself a trip to the All-Star Game and was tabbed as the team’s MVP. He would remain with the Padres until the 1974 season. 

 

Gaston’s .318 mark was the club’s highest single-season batting average for many years until an obscure player by the name of Tony Gwynn put on a Padre uniform.

 

Gaston signed with the Braves for a second time the following season and remained with them until the 1978 season.

 

Along the way, he was a roommate of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron whom Gaston credits with teaching him “how to be a man; how to stand on my own.”

 

He would then play with the Pirates for part of the 1978 season and retire as a Major Leaguer at the end of the season at the age of 34. By 1981, Gaston would have a third stint with the Braves’ franchise in a different capacity.

 

Hank Aaron, Bobby Cox Plug Cito Gaston 

 

 

On the advice of Aaron, who was serving in Atlanta’s organization in player personnel, Gaston was hired as their minor-league hitting instructor.

 

“I had finished playing and Hank got me back in baseball,” Gaston said. “He called me a couple times and asked me to come back as a coach. I said no. The third time he called, I said yes.”

 

A year later, Gaston would make a move that changed his entire baseball career forever. After Bobby Cox was fired at Atlanta as manager, he would be hired to take over the reins at Toronto.

 

One of Cox’s first hires was Gaston, who Cox named hitting coach.  

 

The franchise, heading into their sixth year of existence, was slowly starting to become a contending ball club. Future stars including George Bell, MLBbros Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, and Willie Upshaw developed under Gaston’s tutelage.

 

 

By 1985, Toronto broke through and won their first AL Eastern Division crown (99-62) under Cox. Despite having the second-best record in baseball, the Blue Jays lost in the ALCS against the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals, blowing a 3–1 series lead and losing in seven games.

Cox Returns To Atlanta Giving Cito His Managerial Shot

 

 

A year later, Cox left the team to return to Atlanta to become the Braves’ general manager and Jimy Williams was hired as manager. While the Jays had winning records during Williams’ first three seasons, they couldn’t make the postseason.

 

In 1987, the Blue Jays held a lead with a week to go in the season then lost their last seven in a row to finish two games behind the Detroit Tigers, getting swept on the last weekend. The Jays finished with a 96–66 record, second-best in the major leagues, but were sent home for the summer. 

 

In 1989, the Jays got off to a slow start. In May with a record of 12-24, Williams was fired as manager and replaced by Gaston. At the time, Gaston was the fourth black man to manage in the majors.

 

Initially, Gaston was mentioned to succeed Bobby Cox when he returned to Atlanta, but he turned down the offer. However, when approached this time, Gaston had a change of heart regarding the position.

 

“I never thought I’d be a manager. But once it happened it’s pretty much what I expected. The worst part is the questions from the press. When the games start, I relax.” With regard to being a black manager”, Gaston said, 

“I don’t get too emotional about it. To me, it doesn’t matter what color you are. I only think about it when you guys bring it up.”

Gaston Turned Toronto Blue Jays Into Champions 

 

 

To Gaston’s credit, he would make an immediate impact on the Jays’ fortunes.

 

Under Gaston’s leadership, Toronto transformed from a sub-.500 team to the eventual division winners, going 89–73 (77–49 under Gaston) before falling to to eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics, 4 games to 1.

 

After winning the AL East again in 1991, but falling short in the postseason, the Jays and Gaston would finally make their breakthrough in 1992. Repeating as division champs, Toronto (96-66) went the entire season without being swept in any series, becoming the first team in 49 years to accomplish the feat.

 

Gaston’s squad would exact revenge on the A’s as they defeated Oakland, 4 games to 2 to advance to their first World Series. Facing the defending NL champion Atlanta Braves, With the series tied 1-1, Toronto took Game 3 behind Candy Maldonado’s ninth-inning RBI hit and Game 4 due to Jimmy Key’s superb 713-inning pitching effort in which he retired 15 straight batters (five innings).

 

Atlanta won Game 5 to force the series back to Dixie for Game 6. Toronto was one strike away from winning in the bottom of the 9th inning, 2–1, but Otis Nixon singled in the tying run off the Blue Jays’ closer Tom Henke. It was the first run the Toronto bullpen had given up in the series. 

 

The game was decided in the 11th inning, when Dave Winfield doubled down the left-field line, driving in two runs. The Braves would again come within one run in the bottom of the 11th, but Jays reliever Mike Timlin fielded Nixon’s bunt, throwing to Joe Carter at first base for the final out. 

 

 

Legend Of Cito Gaston Is Epic

 

 

The Blue Jays became the first team based outside of the United States to win the World Series and Gaston became the first Black manager to win the World Series. A year later, Gaston may have done his best managerial job.

 

Despite the loss of Winfield, Maldonado, Kelly Gruber, and others, Toronto (95-67) won a third straight division title and defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games to win the pennant. They would face the Philadelphia Phillies in the Series.

 

The series featured several exciting games, including Game 4, played under a slight rain, in which the Blue Jays came back from a 14–9 deficit to win 15–14 and take 3 games to 1 lead in the series. It remains the highest-scoring game in World Series history. 

 

Game 6 in Toronto saw the Blue Jays lead 5–1 but give up 5 runs in the 7th inning to trail 6–5. In the bottom of the 9th inning, Joe Carter hit a one-out, three-run walk-off home run to clinch the series off of Phillies closer Mitch Williams.

 

Only the second World Series-winning walk-off home run in the history of Major League Baseball (following Bill Mazeroski’s in Game 7 of the 1960 Fall Classic).

 

 

The next season would mark the slow end to Toronto’s reign as roster defections and the 1994 strike proved to be detrimental to the Jays’ 55-60 finish. On October 31, 1994, Gillick, the longtime Blue Jays general manager, resigned and handed the reins of the team to assistant general manager and Toronto native Gord Ash.

 

Gaston continued managing Toronto until the 1997 season was almost finished. But he never had another winning record — he came under fire for not developing good relationships with some of the younger players.

 

Gaston was replaced by then-pitching coach Mel Queen on an interim basis for the last week of the 1997 season. Joe Carter wore Gaston’s No. 43 on his jersey for the remainder of the season in part to honor him and in part to express his displeasure at his firing.

 

Gaston finished his first stint as manager with a 683–636 regular season record and 18–16 post–season record.

 

On June 20, 2008, Gaston was rehired as the manager of the Blue Jays to replace John Gibbons. It was his first managerial job at the major-league level since being fired by the Blue Jays 11 years earlier, which was unusual for a World Series-winning manager.

 

The team’s record was 35–39 when Gaston and his coaching staff took over, after which the Blue Jays went 51–37 for the remainder of the season which included a late ten-game winning streak and the team finished fourth in the American League East.

 

On September 25, 2008, it was announced that Gaston had signed a two-year extension that would keep him as manager until 2010.He announced on October 30, 2009, that he would retire after the 2010 season.

 

For his successes, his name was added to the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre in 1999. He would also be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. 

 

To really understand what Gaston meant to his players, this quote by Joe Carter says it all.

 

“Cito knows how to work with each individual, treating everyone like a human being. He knows exactly what to say, when to say it, what to do and how to go about doing it.”

 

“When you have a manager like that, it makes you want to play for the guy. We’d go to war for him. What Cito has done for the Blue Jays can’t be taken lightly.” In 2023, Gaston was announced as one of the eight managers, executives, and umpires on the 2023 National Baseball Hall of Fame’s contemporary baseball era ballot.