With the noise and excitement of the first few days of tiebreakers, wild cards and post-season baseball underway, the celebration of and mourning for John Gibbons’ managerial career has faded somewhat.
But as we watch the playoffs over the coming month, Toronto Blue Jays fans will certainly have one eye on the search for a new manager, with a very legitimate question: What comes next?
It scarcely seems that long ago that the Jays were engaged in what seemed to be an exhaustive and franchise-defining process that culminated in the hiring of John Farrell. In retrospect, it’s obvious that Farrell did little to progress the fortunes of the team, and mostly stands as a footnote in Jays history. At most, he’s a cautionary tale.
Despite any well-earned hesitation fans may have, there will unquestionably be much anticipation as the current managerial search builds, and we hear of candidates being interviewed. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blue Jays follow the lead of the New York Yankees, who included a media availability as part of the process for the finalists in the search that led to the hiring of Aaron Boone.
This isn’t solely a matter of providing some transparency into the process for the fans, or validating the prospective manager’s battle readiness with the media. But from the manner in which the game has progressed and the tendencies of the Jays’ current front office regime, it seems clear that communications skills will be vital to filling this role.
Because for as much as we’ll spend every day second-guessing the new skipper’s lineup construction and bullpen usage, the manager is also often the chief spokesperson for the team.
Those necessary skills are not simply a matter of the ability to stand and deliver when faced with cameras and microphones in pre- and post-game scrums. It also involves an ability to understand management’s overall strategy and convey that clearly and effectively to the players and to the rest of the coaching staff. In return, this new manager will need to communicate back to the front office his concerns and observations of what is happening at field level.
This isn’t to say that these were roles that John Gibbons didn’t assume during his time here. But by and large, Gibby’s overarching public message was: “Don’t worry about it.” His instinct was to diffuse, defer and deflect, regardless of what level of madness was occurring around him.
And to be fair to Gibby, that message was abundantly needed in the aftermath of the Farrell flameout, which burst into full-blown flames with an awful media appearance in the aftermath of Yunel Escobar’s eyeblack controversy. Farrell initially cut an authoritative figure with the media, but this eroded quickly to give him an air of impatience and imperiousness with the media in his two-year tenure. That tendency followed him to Boston as well, and in spite of the World Series win, Farrell often seemed to be on the run from a very tough media contingent.
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What Gibby brought as a communicator, especially in his second go-round, was a level of unflappability, with a few notable exceptions. Moreover, there was a clear sense of Gibby as an authentic person, willing to recognize the shortcomings of a team’s performance without ever burying a player publicly.
It’s clear that the Blue Jays are entering a new era. It’s not just about a new set of players looking to open a competitive window, but also about a whole new way of approaching the game. While both the front office and Gibbons denied that there was anything other than healthy creative tension between them, it also didn’t seem as though they were fully aligned, or that the front office was operating at the capacity to which they aspired.
None of this is to denigrate the work that Gibbons did. But whoever winds their way through the hiring process in the coming weeks seems likely to cut a very different figure, and will likely have a very different communications style.
For fans, especially those who had become accustomed to Gibby’s forthright credibility, it will likely take a period of adjustment to the new manager. That’s fair, because anyone needs to establish a level of reputational capital with their deeds before people can truly trust their words.
There will be much anticipation to meet the new manager in the coming weeks, and there will be many questions yet to be answered. But one thing seems certain: they will be a very different person and manager than John Gibbons.