Gaston's contributions left mark on game

First African-American skipper to win World Series built strong legacy

Gaston's contributions left mark on game

TORONTO -- Cito Gaston will never be forgotten north of the border for his role in leading the Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series titles in 1992-93. He won't be forgotten in the history books either.

Gaston did his part in breaking down baseball's color barrier when he became the first African-American manager to win the World Series in 1992. Prior to that, a black manager never brought his club to the World Series, let alone came away with the top prize.

The former big league outfielder never hesitated to speak out on racial issues throughout his career. He had to after growing up in the 1950s and '60s and experiencing some of the injustices first hand, but when it came to his managerial and leadership style during that infamous run, it was his paternal instincts that took over more than anything else.

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"It's not easy dealing with 25 different guys, different characters," longtime Blue Jays infielder Tony Fernandez once said when speaking of Gaston. "He had a father-like approach coaching style. And to me, those are the kinds of coaches who have more success with their players."

Gaston secured his lasting legacy with the Blue Jays by winning the World Series, but the reality is, it almost never happened. The native of Texas initially did not view himself as a manager and had to be talked into taking the job when Jimy Williams was fired in May 1989. At the time, Gaston had been the club's hitting instructor since 1982, and he had very little desire to change roles.

Lengthy conversations with Paul Beeston, Tigers manager Sparky Anderson and urging from his players helped changed Gaston's mind, and the success was almost immediate. Toronto was 12-24 at the time of Williams' departure, but under Gaston, the Blue Jays went 77-49 the rest of the way to win the American League East title. Following a second-place finish in 1990, Toronto won the division again in '91, before winning the World Series in '92 and '93.

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"The players were the ones that pushed me towards taking that job, because we started to play well and they wanted me to stay on," said Gaston, who continued to serve as hitting coach while also managing in 1989. "Once I got used to what a manager goes through, I started to enjoy it. And trust me, every day you walk into that ballpark, you might have a problem. You just learn how to deal with it."

During Gaston's initial run in 1989, he faced Baltimore's Frank Robinson in the first meeting of two black managers in Major League Baseball. The series took place in late June, but Gaston did not realize the significance until he landed in Baltimore and was bombarded by attention from the media.

At the time, Gaston's ballclub was still frantically trying to get back into the race with an eight-game deficit in the division, so the focus was on the task at hand. But it was impossible to not recognize the historical aspect to the series even though the racial divide had, for the most part, long since disappeared.

"I was surprised that it took that long, but I guess I never really thought of it like that," Gaston said. "My mindset was just to try and win as many games as you can, no matter who you're against. I'm glad I was a part of it though. Things turned out pretty good for us that year, but it didn't turn out as well for Frank, even though he got [the AL] Manager of the Year [Award].

"The way I view that series still hasn't changed, but it's nice to be part of history."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.