Jays give Gaston early dismissal Queen is interim manager

Sidelight

O's Down may get look

September 25, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Cito Gaston asked for it and he got it.

It just came a little sooner than requested.

Knowing that his time as Toronto Blue Jays manager was nearing a close, Gaston said this week that he wanted to be told of his firing by Sunday because he was going on vacation after that and wouldn't be available. The wait ended yesterday when Gaston was informed by Blue Jays officials that he had been relieved of his duties. Pitching coach Mel Queen was named interim manager for the remaining five games.

Gaston spoke with his players, then left SkyDome before the 5 p.m. news conference announcing the move. It ended a tenure that spanned nine seasons, the second-longest current stretch behind Minnesota's Tom Kelly, and included World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

The Blue Jays began last night with a 72-85 record, 23 games behind the Orioles in the AL East. They haven't finished above .500 since winning their last title.

"During the past three seasons, our club has not responded to the challenges of competing in the American League East," said general manager Gord Ash. "Certainly the players have failed, the organization has failed and I have failed.

"However, the manager, as unfair as it might be, must be responsible and accountable for the lack of results on the field. Our players cannot accept losing. The organization does not take defeat lightly. You can be assured that I am not a good loser."

Gaston has been offered a position as roving minor-league hitting instructor, but only after taking a sabbatical in 1998. Ash declined to say whether this would be a paid leave.

"Managing at this level for almost nine years does take its toll, both physically and emotionally," he said.

Ash said he had a "blank sheet" of possible candidates and didn't expect to start the interview process until early November. Orioles hitting coach Rick Down, a finalist for the Anaheim Angels' job last year, is expected to meet with the Blue Jays once his season is done.

Gaston started out as Blue Jays hitting coach in 1982 before replacing manager Jimy Williams on May 15, 1989, and leading Toronto to a first-place finish in the AL East over the "Why Not?" Orioles. His teams compiled a 681-635 record.

The Blue Jays were widely regarded as contenders this season after the free-agent signing of probable Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and a trade with Pittsburgh -- which Ash referred to yesterday as "a miscalculation" -- that brought three more prominent players. But they rank last in the league in hitting and tumbled to the bottom of the standings.

Ash was ready to make a change in June, before a four-game sweep of the Orioles at Camden Yards bought Gaston more time.

"Some may argue it's too late, while others will suggest it's too soon. But what is clear to me is a change is necessary," Ash said. "Cito and I had an excellent conversation today. There was no malice. Cito chose to go out in his own style. We discussed options how we would address this situation, and the ultimate result we came up with was he would walk away today. I just felt in view of what Cito has had to endure in terms of questions from [the media] and the fans, that it was better he leave on his own time schedule."

Gaston's firing had been a foregone conclusion for the past two months. One Toronto newspaper this week urged the manager to announce his resignation, rather than wait to be fired. A banner has hung above the third deck at SkyDome proclaiming: "Cito Appreciation Week," while two others state "We Love You Cito."

Gaston, an unpopular figure in Baltimore since leaving Mike Mussina in the bullpen during the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards, was asked this week what he'd miss most about his association with the Blue Jays.

"I don't know yet," he said. "I might not miss any of it."

Gaston's record

(All years with Toronto)

Year, W-L, Pct,. Pos.

1989, 77-49, .611, 1st

1990, 86-76, .531, 2nd

1991, 72-57, .558, 1st

1992*, 96-66, .593, 1st

1993*, 95-67, .586, 1st

1994, 53-59, .473, 3rd

1995, 56-88, .389, 5th

1996, 74-88, .457, 4th

1997, 72-85, .459, 5th

Totals, 681-635, .517

* -- won World Series

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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