TORONTO — John Gibbons got a chance to say goodbye Wednesday at Rogers Centre as the Blue Jays made the long-expected announcement that the longtime Toronto manager would not return for the 2019 season.
General manager Ross Atkins made it official at an afternoon news conference before the team’s home finale against the Houston Astros.
“Ultimately we decided it was time for a change, time for a new voice,” Atkins said. “And because of the man that Gibby is, we are here today respectfully and we’re grateful for that. He deserves that, there’s no doubt.”
Gibbons, who is signed through 2019, joined Atkins at the dais in a packed media availability room. In classic Gibbons form, the popular skipper got some laughs right out of the gate.
“We kept that secret pretty good, didn’t we?,” Gibbons said as he smiled at Atkins.
Toronto is in full rebuilding mode and it could be a couple seasons — at least — before the team may be ready to contend again in the American League East.
Gibbons’s job security was in question earlier this summer as the team struggled and rumours circulated that the club was contemplating a managerial change. But the Jays announced in August that Gibbons would finish the season, which concludes Sunday with a three-game series in Tampa against the Rays.
There was no immediate word on who might take over next year.
“It’s just one of those things that happen in baseball,” Gibbons said. “It’s not surprising, it’s pretty common. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best for both sides that we go in a different direction. So that’s where we’re at today.”
Gibbons, 56, first managed the Blue Jays from August 2004 to June 2008. He was rehired in November 2012 and guided the team back to the playoffs in 2015, ending the franchise’s 22-year post-season drought.
“To do that when you are the manager of the team, since that is the ultimate goal, that’s what stands out,” Gibbons said. “But I’ve had so many good memories of this place in good times and bad.”
Toronto returned to the American League Championship Series in 2016 and Gibbons was rewarded in early 2017 with a contract extension that included a club option for 2020.
However, the Blue Jays missed the playoffs last year and played below expectations again this year.
“The storm clouds were gathering,” Gibbons said. “There’s no doubt.”
The Blue Jays became sellers over the summer, shipping out key players like Josh Donaldson and J.A. Happ and turning their focus to younger players.
Gibbons entered play Wednesday in second place on the team’s all-time list for managerial victories with 791. Cito Gaston is the all-time leader with 892 wins.
“I’ve been here a long time and I agree it’s probably time for a change,” Gibbons said. “We’re rebuilding here and actually I think I’m the perfect guy for a rebuild. But I don’t know if I have the energy necessarily.”
The crowd let out a big cheer when Gibbons strolled to home plate to exchange lineup cards before the start of the late-afternoon game against the Astros.
With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” playing on the stadium speakers, Gibbons shook hands with the umpires and hugged Houston manager A.J. Hinch. Gibbons acknowledged the ovation by waving his hat to the crowd as he returned to the dugout.
Despite his affable personality, Gibbons wasn’t afraid to challenge players — stars and journeymen alike — over his tenure. But he was always considered a player’s manager and had the respect of the locker room.
“There’s some things that have happened over the years, but I can honestly say I don’t think I would have handled anything differently,” Gibbons said. “I try to live my life with no regrets because I look in that mirror a lot and one thing I can say since I’ve been doing this — I think I’m a fair guy.
“I don’t think you could run across a player that’s played for me that wouldn’t tell you at least I treated them like a man and was fair as I could be. Those are the important things to me.”
The 56-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, said he’d like to continue managing but if a position is not available elsewhere, he’d like to stay involved in the game.
His 2019 salary is guaranteed and it’s possible he could continue to work for the Blue Jays in a different capacity.
Gibbons first joined the Toronto coaching staff in 2002 as a bullpen catcher. He was promoted mid-season to first base coach and served in that capacity until replacing manager Carlos Tosca.
As a player, Gibbons spent parts of three seasons as a catcher with the New York Mets after being drafted by the team in 1980. He later worked as a coach and manager for a number of teams at a variety of minor-league levels.
Entering play Wednesday, he had a career record of 791-787 as a big-league manager.
“It’s all about winning,” Gibbons said. “That’s the bottom line. Sometimes it can be a long road to get there. But when you don’t win, change happens. That’s just the way it goes.”
With files from Canadian Press reporter Melissa Couto.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press