The Toronto Blue Jays' deep thinkers are conducting a baseball charade.
Pat Gillick, the Jays' general manager, admitted Monday his coast-to-coast search for a permanent field manager will have an extended run. Originally scheduled to dawdle no longer than 10 days, Gillick said "it will go on another week."
Gillick is rounding up the usual suspects: Lou Piniella, Dick Williams, et al.
In an effort to aid Gillick in his decision, the Toronto fans were polled and they, not surprisingly, selected Billy Martin as their candidate. Billy always wins fan polls.
I'm all for audience participation, but I think it's only fair that the fans should spend about a week with Martin before their votes are taken seriously. Not the Billy they read about or see on TV commercials but the real, live Billy, in order to experience the true atmosphere, the mood swings, the mercurial and volatile personality before they expect to have their votes taken seriously.
Gillick may need some sort of help. He has not distinguished himself in this entire managerial mess.
First, it was at his urging that the hapless Jimy Williams was retained as manager after he gasped and sputtered through the 1988 season. It was also at Gillick's urging that Williams tried to make a designated hitter out of temperamental George Bell, a move that sent the Jays into an upheaval from which they never recovered.
This spring, the Jays came north from their Florida training camp brimming with happy expectations. A week into the season, they began a descent that didn't end until Williams was bagged a week ago Monday.
Instead of having "Plan B" ready to implement, Gillick reacted as if a change of managers caught him as much by surprise as if a tidal wave suddenly rolled in from Lake Ontario.
The first thing Gillick did was appoint Cito Gaston, the popular batting coach, as interim manager. The second thing he did was make it clear there was a "99 percent chance" Gaston would not get the job permanently, no matter what the Jays did under his direction.
Why Gillick is making such a production out of this escapes me.
Consider some citizens who have managed major league teams in the last few years: Cal Ripken Sr. . . . Don Zimmer . . . Rene Lachemann . . . Pat Corrales . . . Don Zimmer . . . Jim Frey . . . Bob Lemon . . . Roy Hartsfield . . . Don Zimmer . . . Dave Bristol . . . Frank Lucchesi . . . Bob Lillis . . . Don Zimmer.
And those are just the mediocrities. The list of outright bozos is even longer.
If the ball club is good enough, it's possible to win with a mediocrity in the manager's office. If the club is genuinely good, it's even possible to win with a bozo, as long as he doesn't get in the way.
If Gillick wants a baseball wizard, maybe he should call Gene Mauch. But then, Mauch is 0 for the last 30 years.
Toronto may be in a position where what it actually needs is a Calvin Coolidge-type manager: "He who governs least, governs best."
Meanwhile, the Jays have won five of seven games under Gaston's stewardship. Cito is not a wonder worker. Monday, the Jays desecrated Victoria Day with three errors, two wild pitches and some miscellaneous butchery that didn't make the box score. At the same time, lefty Allan Anderson of the Twins tied them in knots. Nevertheless, Toronto is playing far better since Gaston took over.
Gaston, who has a strong reputation as a hitting instructor, never lusted after a managerial job. He never even managed in the Latin-American winter leagues, like many ambitious coaches.
"I've never quite made up my mind whether I want to be a manager or not," he admits. "I just know I don't want to be hired on the
basis of being black."
Now that he has experienced some success as a manager, he seems to be changing his mind.
"I'm enjoying this, but then I would be enjoying it if I was still just the hitting instructor," he says. "I'm not even sure if I would take the job if it were offered."
The last comment is seen as a diplomatic statement to keep Gillick off the hook. However, it wasn't one of those "If drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve" declarations.
For his part, Gillick seems to be backing off his "99 percent" statement to give himself some more maneuvering room.
"He hasn't hurt himself," Gillick says of Gaston's good start. "And I'm not saying he wouldn't be considered for the job.
"Doing a good job as temporary manager augers well for him later if another team goes looking for a manager."
The worst-case scenario for Gillick would be if Gaston continues to compile an impressive won-lost record, another guy is hired as manager and the Jays then dive back into the tank. The embarrassment might be professionally fatal to the GM.
As poorly as they have played this season, a full game inferior to their horrendous start in 1988, they are far better off in the standing. They are 4 1/2 games out of first place as opposed to 10 1/2 a year ago.
In the carnival of ineptitude they call the American League East, the right manager could yet produce a division championship for the Jays.