May 16, 2022
*Watch Stu Stone’s full interview with John Gibbons for the former Toronto Blue Jays manager’s weekly “Talking Points” feature, sponsored by Bodog Canada, by clicking on the video above.
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
John Gibbons is encouraging Toronto Blue Jays fans to be patient with this year’s team.
Just back from a bear-watching vacation at Yellowstone Park, the ex-skipper told Stu Stone for the latest episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog Canada, that the Blue Jays’ recent struggles are to be expected in a 162-game schedule.
“There’s no need to worry. They [the Blue Jays] got off to a really good start. One thing about baseball, you know you go through a whole lineup and they’re going to go through some ups and downs. It’s very rare that everybody’s clicking at the same time for any length of time. That’s just part of it,” said Gibbons, who managed the Blue Jays for parts of 11 seasons in two separate terms.
The affable ex-dugout boss also believes Blue Jays fans need to be patient with slumping third baseman Matt Chapman. One of the club’s most ballyhooed off-season acquisitions, Chapman is hitting .182 with five home runs through his first 35 games.
Gibbons points out that it’s not uncommon for a player to struggle early in their tenure with a new team.
“He got traded and then he signed a nice two-year deal . . . He wants to justify it,” Gibbons told Stone. “He wants to thrill the whole country [of Canada]. It’s just a little added, extra pressure. It eats at guys. They don’t do things as naturally.”
Gibbons says Chapman’s track record suggests he will come around with the bat. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, it’s not just Chapman struggling at the plate. The team is hitting a major league worst .185 with runners in scoring position. The players are aware of that and that makes them press even more in those situations, said Gibbons. He knows the Blue Jays’ offence is heavily reliant on home runs, but he’d like to see them change their approach with runners in scoring position. Rather than swing for the fences, he’d like to see them stroke a single the other way.
One player who always impressed Gibbons with his approach was Josh Donaldson.
“Josh would go up there and some at bats he’s turning it lose and he’s trying to let it fly and . . . then he’ll go up there and just try to punch something through the other side . . but that’s what the great ones do,” he said.
Gibbons says another adjustment Blue Jays hitters can make is to be more focused on a particular pitch.
“The good hitters, they sit on something. They can’t come for everything. You get some guys that will tell you that. That’s such crap,” said Gibbons. “You’re not going to hit it all, especially when they’re throwing that hard. You better narrow it.”
It sounds like good advice for a team desperate for some clutch hits.
Gibbons on Donaldson, Estrada and Bautista
One of the best things about Gibbons’ Talking Points interviews with Stu Stone are his candid reflections on the players he managed. Here are a few of them from the latest episode:
On Josh Donaldson:
“Donaldson, I thought was a great move for the Yankees because he brings some toughness to that team. They were kind of a bunch of pretty boys, not the old Yankees with the Paul O’Neills and those kinds of guys,” said Gibbons. “I thought that’s a great move just . . . because Josh will stir some things up. He’ll ruffle some feathers. He’s not the pretty boy Yankee . . . I was just thinking about his attitude. I have no idea if it’s rubbing off, but I would think it would. He and Russell Martin brought that to us – toughness that we did not have. We had Bautista and Encarnacion. We had some great players, but we needed that little bit of an edge and they both brought it.”
On Marco Estrada:
Of all the pitchers Gibbons managed with the Blue Jays, he said he would choose Estrada to start in a crucial playoff game.
“In the big games in the playoffs, when the adrenaline is flowing and the pressure is on and the whole world is watching, he’s got that unhittable change-up, so he plays off guys’ aggressiveness and that’s why he won,” said Gibbons. “You couldn’t rattle Marco. It was like, ‘Are you breathing? Is your heart elevated?’”
On Jose Bautista:
“Jose was good for the game,” said Gibbons. “He could be a real pain in the ass to some people. And his peers out in the game hated him because he was so good and he wore it on his sleeve. But you know what? He was good for the game. He was a good frickin’ guy . . . He would do anything for anybody. He was a true gentleman.”