Jay Gibbons gets second chance in bigs

LOS ANGELES -- Jay Gibbons isn't entirely sure why it took him three years to get back to the major leagues. He isn't entirely certain that he was blackballed after his name appeared in the Mitchell report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball a few years ago. And frankly, when he found himself in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse on Sunday morning, he didn't care.

"I'm just grateful to the Dodgers for giving me the opportunity to play in the minor leagues," he said. "I was trying to finish the season strong down there and hoping for [a call-up] in September. But I got a pleasant surprise."

Gibbons is a seven-year major league veteran whom the Dodgers signed last winter to a minor league contract that didn't include an invitation to spring training. He had been lighting up the always-flammable Pacific Coast League, hitting .347 with 28 doubles, 19 home runs, 83 RBI and a .375 on-base percentage for the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate. For that, he finally was rewarded late Saturday night, when he was told by Isotopes manager Tim Wallach that his contract had been purchased by the Dodgers.

To clear a roster spot, the Dodgers designated outfielder Garret Anderson for assignment.
Gibbons and Anderson are left-handed hitters and the Dodgers need a reliable left-handed bat off the bench. Anderson was hitting .240 as a pinch hitter and .181 overall, and Gibbons can also play first base in addition to the corner outfield spots. Given all that, this was a move that has made sense for the Dodgers for a month or two.

So, why did it take them so long to actually make it?

"Everything has its time and place," general manager Ned Colletti said. "We just felt it was time. Out of respect to Garret, he has had a great career, almost all of it in this part of the country with Anaheim [the Los Angeles Angels] and the Dodgers, we wanted to give him every opportunity. But Gibbons was having a great year in Triple-A. Of course, he has been doing it playing every day, not coming off the bench five days a week. Hopefully, he can adjust to that."

It was an adjustment Anderson, a three-time All-Star with the Angels who was coming off the bench for the first time in his 17-year career, was never able to make.

"Sometimes, it's a lot to ask," Colletti said. "He was game for it when we talked to him this spring about coming over here. He said he would do anything he could to help the club, and he did."

After Gibbons was released in spring training two years ago by the Baltimore Orioles, the only other big league club he has played for, he couldn't catch on with another organization, which might have had something to do with his mention in the Mitchell report. Gibbons was also linked in media reports to the purchase of human growth hormone and received a 15-day suspension from baseball in Dec. 2007, just before the Mitchell report was released.

"I was embarrassed," he said of the time. "It was a tough point in my life. It's something I wish I could take back, but you can't. I had a lot of support from my friends and family. I dealt with it, and now it's past me."

After playing the first half of the '08 season in the independent Atlantic League, Gibbons finally did get a job, in the minor league system of the Milwaukee Brewers, for the final few weeks of the 2008 season, but there was no September call-up at a time when the Brewers were fighting for a playoff spot. The next year, he went to spring training with the Florida Marlins but was released at the end of camp, and it was back to the Atlantic League.

Not for long, though.

"I just wasn't enjoying it anymore, so I just decided to retire," Gibbons said. "I went home and sat at home for four or five months and enjoyed being with my family. My wife had three children in those two years I was out [including a set of twins], so it gave us the opportunity to start a family. But then in October, I turned on a playoff game, and I knew I had to give this another try. So I started calling around to winter ball teams."

Gibbons paid his own way to the Venezuelan Winter League, where he played for La Guaira and manager Carlos Subero, who also manages the Dodgers' Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was at Subero's recommendation that Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng gave Gibbons a shot, with no guarantees of a big league call-up or much of anything else. Gibbons, willing to accept any opportunity, went for it.

And now, after three long years, he is back where he always hoped he would be.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.