Blue Jays Flashback: Cito Gaston

Being inducted into the National Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a huge deal, and with Cito Gaston being nominated this year, our man Kevin Glew saw it as the perfect opportunity to wax lyrical about the legendary manager in his latest Blue Jays Flashback.

Cito Gaston

He was the first African-American manager to lead a major league team to a World Series title.

And outside of Joe Torre, he is the only skipper to pilot a club to back-to-back championships in the past 45 years.

Yet, for some reason, former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has never received the respect he deserves.

Let’s hope this changes on December 3 when the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Era Committee announces their 2024 selections.


Gaston will be one of eight finalists considered by the 16-member Hall of Fame voting committee. Three other managers – Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella – are also finalists, along with ex-umpires Ed Montague and Joe West and longtime executives Hank Peters and Bill White. Gaston will require 75 percent support (or 12 of 16 votes) to be elected.

Despite his trailblazing role and success as a Blue Jays manager, this is the first time Gaston has appeared on a Veterans Committee ballot.

One knock against Gaston has been that the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays championship teams were so loaded with talent that all he had to do was get out of the way.

“A lot of people thought those teams were so good they were push-button teams,” fellow World Series-winning manager Dusty Baker told the Toronto Sun in June. “I think that’s hurt Cito’s reputation – the belief that anyone could manage them. I can tell you from experience, there’s no such thing as a push-button team. It doesn’t exist. I don’t care how good your lineup is, there is still a lot to be done.”

It’s puzzling as to why that criticism has followed Gaston, but not Torre, who managed four Yankees teams chock full of superstars to World Series titles. Torre was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by a similar Veterans Committee in December 2013.

And if we do accept that Gaston’s 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays teams were stacked, it takes a skilled leader to convince a group of stars to set their egos aside and jell into a championship-winning club.

But if you want evidence that Gaston could inspire a less than loaded team to the postseason, look no further than the 1989 Blue Jays. When he took over as manager from Jimy Williams on May 15 that year, the team was 12-24. Gaston proceeded to guide them to a 77-49 record and the division title, with veteran outfielder Mookie Wilson being the only notable addition.

So, here’s hoping the Hall voters will take all of this into consideration on Sunday. They should also take into account that of the four managers who are finalists, Gaston is the only one with two World Series titles.

Some critics contend Gaston didn’t manage long enough. He posted an 894-837 record in 1,731 regular season games – that’s more than 800 fewer contests than any of the other three managers being considered by the Hall committee. But shouldn’t the fact that he guided two teams to World Series titles in significantly fewer seasons make it even more impressive?

In a five-year span from 1989 to 1993, Gaston’s Blue Jays clubs captured four division titles and two World Series. Outside of Torre with the Yankees and Bruce Bochy with the San Francisco Giants from 2010 to 2014, there has been not a more successful five-year period for any big league manager in the past 35 years.

Gaston, himself, is likely taking the Hall of Fame talk in stride. Born in 1944 in San Antonio, Tex., he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1964.

But even during his playing days, he was underestimated. After competing in just nine big league games with the Braves, he was left exposed in the 1968 MLB expansion draft and selected by the San Diego Padres with their final pick.

Gaston worked diligently to hone his hitting skills and in 1970, he batted .318 with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs and was selected to the All-Star Game.

Unfortunately, he never came close to duplicating that season. He was dealt back to the Braves in 1974 and served as a backup outfielder before playing his final two major league games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1978.

Three years later, the Braves hired him as a minor league hitting instructor and when Bobby Cox was tabbed to manage the Blue Jays in 1982, he brought Gaston with him to serve as the club’s hitting coach.

Gaston developed into one of the best batting instructors of his era, helping players like Lloyd Moseby and George Bell along with two names in Jesse Barfield and Fred McGriff who have already featured in our Blue Jays Flashback series.

“When Cito Gaston came to me and said that I needed better timing and rhythm and a better approach, it changed my life,” Barfield tweeted in May 2021.

With his strong rapport with Blue Jays hitters, it only made sense for the club to hand him the manager’s position in 1989. Gaston’s first tenure as skipper with the Blue Jays ended in 1997, but he returned to manage from 2008 to 2010. During that time, he helped Jose Bautista rejig his swing and transform the slugger into an American League home run champion.

Gaston was added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre in 1999 and inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. Six years later, he received the Negro Leagues Museum’s Jackie Robinson Award.

Since Gaston led the Blue Jays to their second World Series title in 1993, two more African-American managers – Dave Roberts (Los Angeles Dodgers, 2020) and Baker (Houston Astros, 2022) – have piloted big league teams to World Series titles.

Ask either of them if Gaston is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.

Their answer would be a resounding yes.

I agree with them.

Let’s hope Gaston finally gets the respect he deserves and is elected to the Hall of Fame on December 3.