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Gibbons looking forward to a year off from the game he loves

The former Blue Jays manager reflected on his life and career at the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Banquet
2019-02-06 John Gibbons MG
John Gibbons, right, laughs as he answers a question beside Amber Balcaen at the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Banquet. (Matthew Gourlie photograph)

When the Toronto Blue Jays pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Valentine's Day, John Gibbons won't be there.

The Major League Baseball season was weeks away when the former Blue Jays manager visited Moose Jaw for the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Banquet on Feb. 2 and yet Gibbons still wasn't feeling any itch to get back on the diamond.

"I am actually looking forward to not going to Florida," Gibbons said. "I've been doing it for 40 years, leaving my family and going to Spring Training. It might be kind of nice. Now two weeks after that..."

For someone who loves the game of baseball like Gibbons does, this year, his first away from the Big Leagues since he was in high school, might be a challenge.

"I'm going to take this year off," said Gibbons, 56, who will be paid this year since he still has a year left on his contract with the Jays. "I want to stay in the game. I would love to manage again, but those jobs are hard to come by. One way or another I want to get back into it in some capacity next year. I talked to some teams, some guys that are buddies of mine who are running teams, and they said 'let us know when you're ready,' but I could almost use a little time to rejuvenate a little bit. I think it would do me some good."

The Jays decided to move on from Gibbons after his sixth year as manager.

Gibbons, whose father was a U.S. Air Force colonel, moved around in his younger years — he was in Goose Bay, NL when he began Little League — before settling in San Antonio, Texas for 30 years. For a time, Gibbons' neighbour in San Antonio was Dr. Scott McLeod who hails from Moose Jaw. McLeod was the team physician for the Snowbirds and went on to become the deputy surgeon general for the Canadian Armed Forces. He was in Texas doing some joint exercises between the American and Canadian Forces. 

"They were great people, a nice family," said Gibbons. "I asked where they were from and they said Moose Jaw. Where the hell is Moose Jaw?

"When (emcee Jamie Campbell) asked me, I decided to come. I texted (McLeod), he's up in Edmonton now, and told him I finally made it to Moose Jaw."

Memories of the Jays

Gibbons was first hired by the Jays in 2002. He had a three-year stint as a bench coach in Kansas City, but otherwise has spent 11 years managing the Jays and two more seasons as a coach.

"I've met so many good people in Toronto and Canada and I had the opportunity to manage some great players and good guys that I'll remember forever," Gibbons said. "There's a lot of good memories.

"I considered Toronto part of my home. It was a big part of my life. I was there for some real good times and I was there for some lean times."
Gibbons' proudest achievement was ending the Blue Jays' 23-year playoff drought in 2015. 

"That year in 2015, things just came together. I've never seen anything like it. We caught fire and the whole country caught fire and it was just incredible," he said. "I can't describe the feeling.

"The sad thing is that it didn't last very long and now it's back to a rebuild."

Career Highlights

Gibbons was part of a title in 1986 when he was the Mets bullpen catcher. That title is a little deceiving since Gibbons, 24 at the time, got called up for the last two months of the season when Gary Carter got hurt and stayed with the team for the playoffs despite not making the post-season roster.

He was in the bullpen catching Doc Gooden when Mookie Wilson's ground ball went through Bill Buckner's legs to end Game 6 in one of the most infamous moments in baseball history.

"Out in the bullpen at old Shea Stadium they had plexiglass so you could watch the game, but they had brought all of the riot police and the horses down there and they were in the bullpen," Gibbons recalled. "So I'm catching Gooden and the ball is cracking the mitt pretty good and the horses are jumping. So I couldn't see the damn game, but I was listening and I could tell something crazy was going on."

The Mets' 10th inning rally and Buckner's error forced a Game 7. The Mets beat the Boston Red Sox 8-5 to win the World Series and enhance the fame of Boston's "Curse of the Bambino."

It was the only World Series that the Mets would win in the 1980s despite winning at least 90 games in five straight seasons and boasting a talented group of young players. Gooden won the Cy Young Award at 21, but tested positive for cocaine at Spring Training the year after the World Series win as he battled addiction. It was a similar story with outfielder Darryl Strawberry who was an eight-time all-star and a four-time World Series champion, but was also suspended three times for cocaine use during his career. Four other Mets were arrested after fighting with a policeman outside a bar in Houston during the '86 season.

"I had never seen anything like that team and I don't think anyone ever will again," Gibbons said. "It was a fun group and a really wild group and they lived fast and hard, but you know what? They showed up every day, man, and competed and got after you.

"That was a great team. And they knew how to get in trouble. Two of them should've been in the Hall of Fame — Strawberry and Gooden — and then they both got on drugs. It's sad, y'know?"

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