Friday, June 20, 2008

Warning of 'Sinking Ship' Haunts John Gibbons

It has taken nearly two years, but the words of former corner infielder Shea Hillenbrand that fired Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was running "a sinking ship" at long last appear to have been prophetic.

Say what you will about Hillenbrand and his seemingly self-absorbed perspectives, the record shows that Hillenbrand hit a solid .291 with 18 homers and 82 RBI in 152 games for the Blue Jays in 2005, only to have Gibbons bench him regularly during the following year in favor of Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay.

Whether Gibbons' decision at that time was prudent or effective is an open question, but certainly one could not expect Hillenbrand to have liked it.

The fact remains that Hillenbrand had been a pretty good ballplayer until Gibbons got inside his head, not only by benching him but questioning his devotion and loyalty to his teammates simply because Hillenbrand asked for some personal time to be with his wife Jessica when the couple was bringing home their newly adopted infant, a girl named Dakota, to their Phoenix area home during the second half of the 2006 season.

A personal day under such circumstances hardly seems unreasonable, but Hillenbrand's request was rebuffed and Hillenbrand was incensed, and rightfully so.

At that particular time it was immediately incumbent upon Gibbons as manager to smooth over the problem, not aggravate it by continuing to undermine Hillenbrand by raising questions about his supposedly misplaced family devotion. Nor should Gibbons have discouraged Hillenbrand's natural competitive instincts to play every day.

Rightly or wrongly -- mostly wrongly -- an angry and hurt Shea Hillenbrand revealed his indiscreet opinion of Gibbons and his methods by writing on the clubhouse chalkboard that "this is a sinking ship."

And a sinking ship it was, yet Gibbons chose to engage Hillenbrand in a clubhouse screaming match in which Gibbons attempted to argue that the Blue Jay were not sinking, but rather The Good Ship Lollipop.

Not only did the Blue Jays fail to as much as sniff the World Series, the team continued to underperform all last season and into this year, with the mediocrity of the team's current 35-39 record all the more ironic considering Gibbons has had the benefit of one of the deepest and potentially best rotations in the majors with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch; and a batting order that features Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and Shannon Stewart.

Reporters and pundits closely familiar with the team are almost unanimous in their criticism that the Good Ship Gibbons was in disarray, unfocused and often unprepared.

Most teams' group pictures will be used in next year's baseball card editions, but the Blue Jays' image should also appear in the dictionary, under 'U' as an illustration for the word "underachievement."

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