Sportsmanship in Black: Cito Gaston

Clarence Edwin “Cito” Gaston was born March 17, 1944 in San Antonio, Texas.  His career ambition was to either be a truck driver or a baseball player.  The latter won out.  Gaston enjoyed a ten-year baseball career from 1967-1978.  He spent the 1968 season in the minor leagues.  Gaston had his best season in 1970, when he made the National League All-Star Team.  He batted .318 for the San Diego Padres with 29 home runs and 93 RBI.  Gaston joined the Toronto Blue Jays as its hitting coach in 1982.  He remained in that position until assuming managerial duties in 1989. 

In a world of African-American firsts, it seems the pioneering spirit of Cito Gaston has gone largely overlooked.  This appears especially strange in baseball where African-American firsts are celebrated more than any other sport.  Cito Gaston is the first and only African-American manager to win a World Series.  He won consecutive World Series titles as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.  Toronto also won four American League East division titles during his tenure as well (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993).  As a matter of fact, Gaston is the only manager not named Joe Torre to win more than one World Series in the last twenty years.  So, what gives?  Why isn’t he regarded as one of the great managers in baseball?

Do I think race has something to do with it?  You better believe it.  African-American coaches have gone largely unheralded when it comes to coaching and managing ability.  This lends itself to the stereotype that African-Americans are athletically gifted but lack intelligence.  If they do somehow guide a team to a championship, it’s more a consequence of the people around them.  So, it’s hard to imagine the same type of thought process didn’t affect Cito Gaston.  It also didn’t help that the Blue Jays play in Canada or that Cito Gaston is not a loud, brash manager.  Nonetheless, his former players and colleagues hold him in the highest regard for his friendship, confidence, and “father-like” approach. 

Major League Baseball endured a lengthy players’ strike in 1994, the year after Toronto’s last World Series victory.  Gaston could not continue his previous success when the league re-emerged in 1995.  After four consecutive losing seasons, the Blue Jays fired Gaston in 1997.  Gaston was re-hired after the 1999 season as a special assistant to the CEO.  He left the position briefly in 2001 and returned in 2002.  He accepted Toronto’s offer to return as manager in 2008.  Gaston led the Blue Jays to a 246-240 record over three more seasons and retired in 2010.  Cito Gaston leaves a tremendous legacy as a player and a manager.  He made hardball relevant in the birthplace of hockey.  There’s no doubt about it.  Until next time…

Be a Good Sport!

-Sol

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