Friday, 20 June 2008

Misty Water Colour Memories

Did I wake up this morning, put on my tightest pair of acid washed jeans then tune into my transistor radio to hear a rock block of Madonna's "Like a Prayer", Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" and Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" followed by news that the Berlin Wall had come down?

No? It's not 1989?

As you've likely already heard, Cito Gaston is back in the managerial saddle and has brought Gene Tenace (but not Galen Cisco) along for the ride. Is Galen Cisco still alive? This is most likely a desperate attempt by JP and/or Godfrey to give the ticket-buying masses enough hope to still keep on coming down to the Rogers Centre this summer.

Or maybe it's all a smoke screen to divert attention from JP's highly inappropriate comments about Adam Dunn on Jaystalk last Wednesday. In any event, this is all about PR, people, and JP wasn't about to fire himself. At least he was big enough to admit that "I share the blame along with Gibby and we all know we have a better team than this." The hangman hasn't put his noose away quite yet and JP may still share the same fate as his former roommate.

Along with John Gibbons, Gary Denbo gets to wear the goat horns for the team's underwhelming 35-39 start, as does third base coach Marty Pevey to a lesser extent. JP had been looking for an excuse to fire Ernie Whitt for some time, so he gets shuffled out the door as well. In as base coaches are Cito's buddies Dwayne Murphy and Nick Leyva.

Don't get me wrong, I'm cynical about this move but that doesn't mean I'm against it. I've been indifferent towards John Gibbons for some time now; he, like JP, is thoroughly average at what he does, making few outrageous mistakes to accompany the rare master stroke. Although this deck chair shuffle was probably unnecessary, Cito's classy Morgan Freeman-esque bearing during the press conference in Pittsburgh this afternoon is somewhat reassuring to me in this time of crisis.

Lest we forget that sandwiched between the 1989 miracle comeback and the 1992 and 1993 powerhouses Cito managed a fourth overlooked playoff squadron. The '91 Jays parlayed the 11th worst offense in the AL and the best team ERA into a 91-win season and AL East title. They ultimately got steamrolled in the ALCS by the Twins, who went on to win the World Series, but still. They got in, and that's all that matters these days.

The similarities between that club and this one are much greater than their differences. Those Jays had very little power from their starting nine (only Joe Carter and the Ghost of Kelly Gruber hit 20 dingers or better), but compensated with blinding speed and a stellar rotation of Jimmy Key, David Wells, Todd Stottlemyre, Juan Guzman, trade deadline pickup Tom Candiotti and the Ghost of Dave Stieb. Well, we can't equal the speed of Devo and Robbie this year, but you know what I'm driving at: great pitching CAN mask a weak offense.

When things were rolling before the team imploded in the mid-90s, Cito had the managerial intangibles that made the Jays win more games than their pythagorean said they should've. Yes, that's right, intangibles, and I'd say the same thing now about Ozzie Guillen or Ron Gardenhire. Cito was famous for reading pitchers who tipped their pitches (think Robbie Alomar homering off Dennis Eckersley in the '92 ALCS) or fell into patterns. His skill set doesn't count for nothing and is almost certainly greater than that of the departed John Gibbons.

His handling of a spastic young David Wells was legendary. If you don't remember, Boomer once objected to getting the hook early and chose to throw the ball down the third base line in disgust rather than hand it over to his manager. When he got shelled again in his next start, Cito left him in to take his lumps and refused to pull the portly southpaw. Point made. AJ Burnett, take note.

Cito says "We're gonna try to start the season over tonight." I know better than to expect a miracle, but am wishing him well all the same.

-- Johnny Was

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