Blue Jays fire Gibbons, bring back Cito Gaston

PITTSBURGH -- John Gibbons was fired by the last-place Toronto Blue Jays on Friday and replaced by Cito Gaston, who led the team to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

The Blue Jays began the day 35-39, having lost five straight and 13 of their past 17 games to fall 10½ games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.

Gibbons' $650,000, one-year contract was to expire at the end of the year. He is the third major league manager fired this week, following Willie Randolph of the New York Mets and John McLaren of the Seattle Mariners. Randolph was fired early Tuesday and McLaren on Thursday.

"The team just wasn't doing what was expected of it, and maybe changes were needed," Gibbons said during a conference call. "There was a lot expected this year, we came in riding high and speaking high. And that's not the results we're getting now."

General manager J.P. Ricciardi has repeatedly said Gibbons should not be a scapegoat. Ricciardi roomed with Gibbons when both were prospects in the New York Mets system during the early 1980s and have been friends since.

"From our standpoint we've underachieved," Ricciardi said. "We know we have a better team than this. Right now we want to see if we can spark this team and we think Cito is the guy to do it."

The Jays, who were in Pittsburgh to open a weekend series, also fired three of Gibbons' coaches -- Marty Pevey, Ernie Whitt and Gary Denbo.

This is the first time there were three managerial changes in a four-day span within a season since May 1991, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Back then, Jim Essian replaced the Chicago Cubs' Don Zimmer, Johnny Oates took over from Baltimore's Frank Robinson and Hal McRae succeeded the Kansas City Royals' John Wathan.

Gibbons, who became manager midway through the 2004 season, had a record of 305-305 with the Blue Jays. His best season was in 2006, when Toronto went 87-75 to finish second in the division.

But that 2006 season was also when Gibbons challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight after the infielder wrote on a clubhouse bulletin board that the "ship is sinking," and a month later had a confrontation with pitcher Ted Lilly in a dugout tunnel following an argument on the mound.

The 64-year-old Gaston becomes the Blue Jays' first two-time manager. He previously managed the team from 1989 to 1997.

Gaston, who has been special assistant to the president and chief executive, had a 681-635 record as manager during his earlier stint. Joining his staff will be first base coach Dwayne Murphy, third base coach Nick Leyva and hitting coach Gene Tenace.

The Blue Jays' main problem this season has been hitting, and a pitching staff unable to carry the burden. Toronto is near the bottom of the AL with a .258 average and next-to-last in the league with 49 homers in 74 games.

"We tried different things, different batting orders, to see if something clicked, and there just wasn't any real consistency," Gibbons said. "We had our ups and downs, the problem is it was more downs this year."