Cito Gaston turns 77 today.
Cito, the player, came up through the Atlanta Braves system and was a September call up in 1967, sharing the outfield with Hank Aaron.
In 1968, he was picked up by the San Diego Padres, in the expansion draft. He had one terrific season there, hitting .318/.364/.543 with 29 homers and 93 RBI. The rest of his career was up and down, but he had an 11-year career and was a very good defensive center fielder.
Being a black player, coming up in the ‘60s 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 they ejected him, 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 let them play.
I like that.
In his first stint as manager, 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 got me was when he convinced 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 74 on the all-time win list for MLB managers. And, of course, number one among Jays’ managers.
Scott Downs turns 45 today. He was one of my favorites.
The Cubs drafted downs 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, the Cubs traded him to the Expos for Rondell White. Most of Scott’s 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 and 13 relief appearances, finishing with a 4-3 record and a 4.31 ERA for the Jays. In 2006 he was moved to the pen, pretty much full time except for five 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. John 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 until 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 excellent 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.
After the 2010 season, he signed with the Angels. From there, he bounced around, going to the Braves, White Sox, Royals, and Cleveland.
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 six seasons, 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 61 today. Ok, ok, he wasn’t a great on the baseball diamond, but, he cleaned up in team pickup basketball games. After three 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 Celtics and won another as the Executive Director of Basketball Operations.
So Happy Birthday to all three. I hope they each have a great day.