*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.
June 8, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Coopestowners in Canada
John Gibbons says Russell Martin gave the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays the “backbone” they needed to advance to the postseason.
“He was a good hard-nosed Canadian, a tough Canadian . . . You know we had some boppers – Jose [Bautista] and Eddie [Encarnacion] and some other guys – but I didn’t think we necessarily had that grit that you needed,” Gibbons told Stu Stone for the latest episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog Canada.
Gibbons says the Canadian catcher brought an intensity and an “edge” to the Blue Jays’ clubhouse.
“You can have all the great players in the world, but if they don’t have that edge about them . . .. And Russell brought us that toughness. He gave us that backbone we needed,” Gibbons told Stone.
Gibbons made these comments about Martin in wake of the Canuck backstop’s retirement announcement on May 28.
The ex-Jays skipper thought highly of Martin, so highly, in fact, that he gave the Montreal native the opportunity to manage the final game of the 2018 season.
“Number one, I like Russell,” Gibbons told Stone when asked why he gave Martin the opportunity to manage. “I liked everything about him. I loved what he did for our team. He was crucial for those two years. But I also felt if there is a guy out here who wants to go into managing . . . he’s the guy. He’s perfect. He’s a catcher. He’s smart. He’s done everything . . . So now let’s put this on his resume.”
Gibbons also told Stone that in the dying days of that 2018 season with the Blue Jays well out of contention, he felt like he was “basically fired anyway.” So he had approached Martin with the idea a few days earlier.
The Blue Jays ended up losing 9-4 to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and Stone asked Gibbons if he was really the one pulling the strings behind the scenes in that game. The answer was a definitive no.
“I didn’t even go down to the field. I kept my civvies on. I was dressed the way I came to the ballpark,” Gibbons told Stone.
Gibbons’ philosophy that day was “Let Russell have fun with it. Let Russell go out there and do it.”
It’s a testament to the regard Gibbons held Martin in that he gave the Canuck catcher that opportunity. But Gibbons, a former catcher himself, had admired Martin’s skills long before the Blue Jays were able to sign him to a five-year, $82-million deal in November 2014.
“I had always been a fan. I hadn’t seen him play a lot when he was with some of the other teams, but I saw him play enough and you could just tell there was something about this kid,” said Gibbons.
“He was hard-nosed and all you had to do was look on his bubble gum card and every team he played on in damn near his whole career was a playoff team . . . You’ve got to have great pitching to get to the playoffs and win, but you’ve got to have a damn good catcher to lead those guys. So that’s what makes his career more impressive. Yeah, he was on those winning teams, but he was the captain of those winning teams because he was behind the plate.”
For the record, in his 14 major league seasons, Martin’s teams advanced to the postseason 10 times.
Gibbons also pointed out that Martin was a pioneer in pitch framing.
“The way he caught the ball from the pitchers and made it look like a strike, I mean he was so far ahead of the game,” said Gibbons. “He would always start low and he would bring that thing up. Now they all try to do what he was doing and he did it naturally.”
Gibbons said Martin had a great major league career.
“Russell got a lot of credit for those teams [2015 and 2016 Blue Jays], but he probably didn’t get enough credit . . . for how he stabilized us, the things he did – the big hits and running the pitching staff,” said Gibbons.
Gibbons on Lawrie, Morneau, hitting with runners in scoring position and being interviewed
You can watch Stu Stone’s full interview with Gibbons for the latest episode of Talking Points here.
On Canadian infielder Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.)
“We had one [Canadian] on our team that should’ve been a frickin’ All-Star every year but this [pointing to his head] got in the way . . . I’ve never seen anybody with more talent than that kid had.”
On Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.):
“Morneau, he was an MVP. He’s at that Larry Walker kind of level . . . He was one of those guys you feared when he came to the plate. He wasn’t just a slugger, he was a good hitter . . . He was just an elite player and even more importantly – well, maybe not more importantly in the baseball world – he was just a first-class guy. He did everything right.”
On the Blue Jays’ recent success hitting with runners in scoring position:
“There’s nothing wrong with a cheap-ass single to right field through the shift as long as it scores a run. I mean the name of the game is scoring runs and the team that scores the most runs wins.”
On being asked questions by fans for Talking Points:
“I’m an open book. You may not want to read it, but I’m an open book.”