Gibbons recalls Thomas’ 500th HR and Big Hurt’s unceremonious departure from Jays

*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.

May 31, 2022

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Frank Thomas belted his 500th major league home run off Minnesota Twins right-hander Carlos Silva in the first inning of a game at the Metrodome on June 28, 2007 while he was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

After the celebration ended, just three at bats later, The Big Hurt was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Wegner for arguing balls and strikes.

John Gibbons, who was the Blue Jays manager at the time, believes he might have inspired that ejection. In the most recent episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog Canada, Gibbons recounts that Thomas had a habit of coming back to the dugout after at bats and hollering at the home plate umpire.

“I told him a few times, I said, ‘Frank, listen, don’t wait until you get to the dugout to jump on the umpire’s ass. Tell him out there, man. No. 1, you’re going to the Hall of Fame. No. 2, you’re so damn big . . . they might do something,” Gibbons told Talking Points host Stu Stone.

The ex-Jays skipper says maybe Thomas finally took his advice on the day he clubbed his milestone home run.

Gibbons shared several memories of Thomas during this week’s episode, including that the slugger used to watch a video of his home runs prior to each game as a form of positive reinforcement. The beloved Blue Jays skipper considered the Hall of Fame slugger a “real gentleman,” despite the fact that things didn’t end well for Thomas in Toronto.

After a solid 2007 campaign with the Blue Jays in which he topped the team in home runs (26) and RBIs (95), Thomas, about to turn 40, had struggled mightily in spring training and was hitting just .167 in the first 16 regular season games.

The Blue Jays also had aging veterans Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) and Shannon Stewart jockeying for at bats and Thomas had a $10-million option for 2009 that would click in if he got 300 more plate appearances. So after several discussions with general manager J.P. Ricciardi, Gibbons made the difficult decision to call Thomas into his office to tell the veteran his playing time was going to be reduced.

“I remember I brought Brian Butterfield in there just to make sure because if Frank got pissed off at me, he could pinch my neck, you know? Snap my neck,” recalled Gibbons with a chuckle. “And plus I didn’t want anything to get lost in translation . . . So Butter’s sitting over there and I said, ‘Frank, listen, you’re still our DH, but against certain pitchers that you may struggle with, we may want to get some other guys some DH at bats.”

Thomas didn’t like the message being delivered.

“He said, ‘This is BS.’ He goes, ‘This about my money next year.’ And I said, ‘Frank, with all due respect, I don’t have a contract for next year and I’m sure as hell not worried about yours,” said Gibbons.

Thomas then demanded to talk to Ricciardi and the Blue Jays released the veteran slugger the next morning. Thomas signed with the Oakland A’s and he played his final 55 major league games with the A’s that season.

“I’ve always heard that the hardest thing to do is to manage a fading superstar,” said Gibbons. “It catches up with everybody . . . It’s hard to tell them that. But one thing that’s certain, the game moves on with or without us.”

Despite their differences at the end, Gibbons feels fortunate to have shared a dugout with Thomas.

“It was honour to manage him,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons on the extra-innings ghost runner, pitch counts, Vegas road trips

Here are a few other interesting thoughts from Gibbons from the latest episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog Canada:

On the current rule that places a ghost runner on second base to start an extra inning:

“I think the biggest embarrassment in baseball right now is you get to extra innings and you start with a guy on second base. Is this Little League baseball or what? I mean, what are we doing?”

On pitch counts and making decisions with his eyes as a manager:

“The analytics are taking over and they say, ‘Well, when it gets to this point in the game, this number of pitches or this time through the lineup, this whatever, he runs into big time trouble.’ OK. OK, fine. We’ll keep an eye on it. It doesn’t mean you automatically have to do it [take the pitcher out], he may be pitching well. He may be strong that night. He may be facing a cold team. Who knows? There’s a lot of factors . . . They call that gut decision. No, that’s not gut decision. You see it with your eyes. My eyes tell me this guy is pretty good.”

On road trips to Las Vegas in the minors

“When I was playing in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1988, I got traded over to the Dodgers from the Mets and so Albuquerque was in the Pacific Coast League and Las Vegas had a team . . . So we used to make two or three trips to Vegas a year . . .We’d go there and we’d never win a game. And there was always two buses to the ballpark. On the way to the park, nobody was ever on the first one, everybody took the second because they’re all beat up from the night before. After the game, everybody was on the first bus out of there so they could go to the casinos. Nobody ever got on the second one.”

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