Cito Gaston turns 76 today.
As player Cito came up through the Atlanta Braves system and was a September call up in 1967. He shared the outfield with Hank Aaron for a few games. Then, in 1968, he was picked up by the San Diego Padres, in the expansion draft. He had one amazing season there, hitting .318/.364/.543 with 29 homers and 93 RBI. The rest of his career was up and down, maybe mostly down, but he did have an 11-year career and was a good defensive center fielder.
Being a black player, coming up in the 60’s through the Atlanta Braves system, it must have been, at very least, interesting. I’m sure he has some stories to tell. Between that and winning two World Series as manager of the Jays, you would think there is a good book in his life story.
As a manager, he has an 894-837 record, all with the Blue Jays. He led us to 5 first-place finishes and, of course, 2 World Series wins. Interestingly, at least to me, he only had 26 ejections in his managerial career. I remember him saying that he was move valuable to the team if he could stay on the bench, instead of watching from the clubhouse. I think, from memory, that the rare time he was ejected, it was in the attempt to keep one of his players in the game.
Cito had strengths and weaknesses as a manager. He let his players play, he didn’t try to impress us with managerial moves. He didn’t like the bunt. And, I was told, at least in his second time around with the Jays, that he didn’t have a hit and run sign. He picked out the guys he liked and he just let them play.
In his first stint with the team, he preferred the veteran players. Sometimes even after they were no longer good baseball players. His second time with the team, he was more willing to use younger guys.
And, he liked guys to pull the ball. The one that really got me was when he got John McDonald to go to the all pull all the time style. John did get a few homers, but pitchers seemed to catch on after a bit, and he ended up pulling balls on the ground a lot.
Cito is number 67 on the all-time win list for MLB managers.
Scott Downs turns 44 today. He was one of my favorites.
Downs was drafted by the Cubs in the 3rd round of the 1997 draft. He made it to the majors with the Cubs in 2000, though he was traded to the Twins and back before making it. In May of 2000, he was traded to the Expos for Rondell White. Most of his time with the Expos was spent recovering from 2 Tommy John surgeries.
He signed with the Jays before the 2005 season.
In 2005 he made 13 starts for the Jays and came out of the pen for them 13 times finishing with a 4-3 record and a 4.31 ERA. In 2006 he was moved to the pen, pretty much full time except for 5 spot starts. In 59 games he was 6-2, 1 save and a 4.09 ERA.
In 2007 he became a very valuable pitcher; pitching in 81 games as a one-out lefty type. He had a 4-2 record with a 2.17 ERA. Gibbons would have used him every game if he could have. And he held up to the workload very well.
2008 he worked his way into the setup role. Cito seemed to use him in every game that we were ahead and often when we were behind. He pitched multiple innings several times and he was having one of the best seasons we’ve ever had from a setup man, till he twisted an ankle late in the season. He likely should have been allowed to rest the ankle longer but you can’t blame Cito for wanting to keep using him. He had been a sure thing every time out until then.
In 2009 he and Jason Frasor shared the closer role. Downs had another good season, with a 3.09 ERA in 48 games. In 2010 he was back in a setup man spot (the Jays signed Kevin Gregg before the season). Scott had a 2.64 ERA in 67 games.
In all he played for 13 seasons, pitched in 619 games, 50 starts. He had a 3.56 and 27 saves. He was with the Jays for 6 seasons, pitched in 347 games and had a 3.14 ERA.
Downs was affectionately nicknamed Snakeface. It came from people telling Mike Wilner, on Jays talk, that Downs wasn’t intimidating enough on the mound, so Wilner said that Downs had gotten a snake tattoo on his face to make him scarier looking.
And former Blue Jay great, Danny Ainge turns 60 today. Ok, ok, he wasn’t a great on the baseball diamond, but, man he cleaned up in team pickup basketball games. After 3 seasons and a .220/.264/.269 batting line he left baseball to play for the Boston Celtics, a good move, he was a far better basketball player than baseball. He won 2 NBA Championships as a player for the Celtic and won another as the Executive Director of Basketball Operations.
So Happy Birthday to all three. I hope they each have a great day.