"I never would have guessed this could happen," he said at a news conference.
Gibbons managed Toronto from 2004-08 and had a 305-305 record, making him the third-winningest manager in franchise history. He succeeds John Farrell, who spurned Toronto for his dream managing job in Boston. Gibbons, however, takes over a very different team from the one Farrell managed.
The surprise announcement came a day after the Blue Jays completed a mega deal in which they acquired All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from Miami. Toronto agreed to the trade last week and commissioner Bud Selig approved it Monday. The Blue Jays, extraordinarily busy in this offseason, also finalized a $16 million, two-year deal with free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera.
"Who wouldn't want to be here?" Gibbons said. "The front office has put together a legitimate contending type team."
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos had said he wanted someone who was familiar with the organization and city. Anthopoulos was an assistant GM when Gibbons managed Toronto. Gibbons joins Cito Gaston as managers serving two stints with the Blue Jays.
"I don't know that there was anybody better in terms of managing a bullpen, connecting with the players, connecting with the front office, holding players accountable," Anthopoulos said.
Gibbons' best season was in 2006, when Toronto went 87-75 to finish second in the division -- the same season he had a well-publicized blowup with players Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. Gibbons said he regrets the physical altercation with Hillenbrand and called it a black eye, but Anthopoulos defended him and said if you can't play for Gibbons then you can't play for too many guys.
Gibbons most recently managed the Double-A San Antonio Missions of the Texas League in the San Diego Padres' organization last season. He also had three seasons as the Kansas City Royals' bench coach.
Gibbons joined the Blue Jays' coaching staff in 2002 as a bullpen catcher and was promoted midseason to first base coach. He served in that capacity until replacing Carlos Tosca in 2004. Before joining the Blue Jays the first time, Gibbons spent 11 seasons working with the New York Mets.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is well aware the AL East has gotten even more competitive because of Toronto's recent moves.
"I know the sleeping giant that exists up there. It's a great baseball town," Cashman said in a conference call with New York beat writers. "Last year wasn't a true reflection of how good they could have been because they got derailed with injuries and unexpected underperformance."
Blue Jays president Paul Beeston said he was equally surprised when the Marlins trade became a possibility and when Anthopoulos told him he was interested in hiring Gibbons. "They were back-to-back shockers," Beeston said with a laugh.
"I said, 'Are you serious?' " Beeston said of Gibbons. "Forget about him being an intellectual, he's a baseball guy. And those are the guys you really want in your organization."
Beeston said the Marlins' trade makes the Blue Jays contenders in the AL East. They haven't reached the playoffs since winning their second consecutive World Series in 1993. Only Kansas and Pittsburgh have longer playoff droughts.
Beeston said the payroll currently is about $120 million. Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays have gone beyond what they thought the payroll could be, but said he was promised that if the right opportunity came along ownership would spend.
Anthopoulos first targeted Johnson and but quickly learned Reyes and Buehrle were also available. He told Beeston he knew it was a lot of money, but said Beeston encouraged him and checked with the owners, Rogers Communications.
"I always felt when the opportunity was right that Rogers would invest in the ballclub," Beeston said. "We've spent the money, now let's go out and win."