Newly hired Gaston could ultimately save or doom Ricciardi's job
It has not, by any measure, been a fun month to be J.P. Ricciardi.In the span of a few days, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays: (1) went against baseball protocol by publicly criticizing an opposing player (Cincinnati's Adam Dunn) on a Toronto radio show, angering ownership and resulting in a public apology; (2) fired his longtime friend -- and one-time roommate -- John Gibbons as his manager; and (3) heard and read widespread speculation that Gibbons' replacement, Cito Gaston, was not his choice but rather forced on him from above.
OTHER GMS ON THE HOT SEAT
• Omar Minaya: Firing manager Willie Randolph temporarily shifted the focus from Minaya, but if the Mets don't reach the postseason with the game's second-highest payroll, he'll be back in the crosshairs.
There were suggestions that Gaston's return was masterminded by Godfrey or some higher-ups at Rogers Communications to restore some good will with an alienated fan base which has never fully embraced the Jays since the strike of 1994-95. Gaston, it was thought, was a nostalgic and sentimental choice to distract from the disappointment of the 2008 Jays."I don't know what the perception was," said Ricciardi, "but this was totally my call. [Godfrey] was on board [with the choice of Gaston], but no one called to tell me to do this. I have complete autonomy. This was my call all the way." Gaston has already rescued the Jays once, taking over for Jimy Williams in 1989 and guiding the Jays to the playoffs. Ricciardi isn't sure it can happen again, but he still thought the change was necessary. "We've underachieved offensively," he said, noting that the Jays ranked near the bottom of the American League in virtually every significant category. "We had to change something -- change the mind-set, change the approach." The Jays have been horrific in their situational hitting, particularly with runners in scoring position, and have 30 one-run losses to show for their futility. Gaston, once a respected hitting coach, may have the tonic. "We needed someone who's been through it and had some success," Ricciardi said. "Cito is a solid offensive guy. Our whole mind-set has to change, from the manager on down. And it starts at the top." Gaston has already held some meetings with hitters and offered some suggestions. His steady, quiet professionalism has had an impact in the clubhouse. "He's old-school," Ricciardi said, "but in a good way. He's the perfect fit. And if we're going to salvage the season, we'd better start now." For the Jays, this wasn't supposed to be a season to salvage, but rather one to savor. Limited by injuries last season, the Jays boosted their payroll to nearly $100 million for this season, mixing veterans (Lyle Overbay, Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells) with younger, homegrown players (Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan). Ricciardi also traded the placid Troy Glaus for the more fiery Scott Rolen, then added spark plug David Eckstein, remaking the left side of the Toronto infield, and not incidentally, the makeup of the team. Rolen and Eckstein had won championships elsewhere and were known as high-energy players, a contrast to the more laid-back Wells and Alex Rios. But right from the beginning, injuries intervened. Wells and Rolen missed extended time, and Rios, who was awarded a multiyear contract extension in early April, grossly underperformed. Something had to be done. "This is the best team we've had since I've been here," Ricciardi said, "but we've underperformed. I'm disappointed more than anything. We need to get back to .500 and see if we can put ourselves in position for the wild card."
I don't know what the perception was, but this was totally my call. [Team president and CEO Paul Godfrey] was on board [with the choice of Cito Gaston as the Blue Jays' new manager], but no one called to tell me to do this. I have complete autonomy. This was my call all the way.
--Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Pineda ejected for foreign substance on neck
- Red Sox shut down Yankees behind Lackey
- D-backs spoil Wrigley's 100th with rally in 9th
- Dodgers ruin Hamels' 1st start of season
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- Antigua Men's Toronto Blue Jays Executive Royal Crew Neck Sweater