Blue Jays manager Gibbons once had serious wheels

CLEARWATER, FLA. -

There were plenty of coaching legends here at Bright House Field on Saturday afternoon.

Larry Bowa, Juan Samuel and Pete Mackanin were in the Philadelphia Phillies dugout.

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And cheering for the Blue Jays were coaching legends Syl Perez and Frank Arnold.

What’s that? You don’t know the names Perez and Arnold?

Perez coached the Gen. Douglas MacArthur High Brahmas in San Antonio, who had a catcher named John Gibbons, now the Blue Jays manager

Arnold coached the football Brahmas with a running back by the same name.

Perez was heavily involved helping Gibbons through the draft process, remembering the spring of 35 years ago when “we had more scouts than fans at our games.”

The San Antonio coaches were in Florida to see Gibbons ... and tell stories.

Like the time Cincinnati Reds scout Joe Caputo showed up to clock Gibbons in the 60-yard dash.

“Coach ... do me a favour, pace off 60 for me, will you please?” Caputo asked Perez.

Caputo paced and eventually off Gibbons sped.

“Dang, that boy can run!” said Caputo looking at 6.8 seconds on his stop-watch.

Perez laughed telling the story.

“I didn’t say anything until after the draft, I stopped pacing at 55 yards,” said Perez, who brought his sons Mickey and Steve on the trip.

A Los Angeles Dodgers scout called Gibbons at home one night, telling him how to change his approach at the plate. Gibbons called Perez, who then fired off a letter to the Dodgers. Perez said that the Dodgers apologized.

The first scout Gibbons ever met was Al LaMacchia of the Jays.

“He was behind me in the bullpen and, when our pitcher finished, he said: ‘Son, do you know how many balls you dropped? Five. You’d better work on that,” Gibbons said. “I asked: ‘Who was that?’”

Perez told of the headline in the San Antonio Light which read something like: ‘Grote and Ryan, Now Gibbons and Godden?’ after the New York Mets had drafted Gibbons.

MacArthur grad Jerry Grote played 16 years in the majors, 12 with the Mets.

“Grote told me that, with tough left-handed hitters, he’d throw the ball back to the pitcher past the hitter’s nose,” Gibbons said. “He’d do it a second time and the guy would turn and say: ‘Once more and we’re fighting.’ He said they didn’t fight, but he’d distracted the guy enough to where he didn’t get any hits.”

The Gibbons and Gooden headline never appeared on the back page of the New York Post. Gibbons was injured in a home-plate crash late in 1984 and, when he returned, New York had acquired Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos. Gibbons started only 14 games for the Mets before turning to coaching and managing.

Perez said Gibbons’ father was a dream parent for a coach: “Bill used to sit down the right-field line ... never said a word to our coaches.”

Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick, who scouted Gibbons, called him “one of the most energetic catchers,” he’d seen. The Jays took infielder Garry Harris second overall (he peaked at double-A Knoxville) and Ken Kinnard in the second (he played two games at triple-A Syracuse).

“John hit .190 as a junior with a double,” said Arnold, although Gibbons thought he had two homers. “His draft year, he hit .500 with 10 homers in 19 games — 19 games was our schedule back then.”

When the mighty baseball Brahmas made the playoffs, two-sport players like Gibbons still had to make morning workouts for spring football in the field house.

“They’d lock the doors, turn up the heat and do agility drills,” said Gibbons. “You were beat in the morning and still had a game to play.

“Times were different then.”

When report cards came out, Arnold was there to check anyone for a failing grade or poor conduct in class.

“For either, they’d tell you to go line up over there ... you didn’t want to be in that line,” said Gibbons, who said he never made the disciplinary queue.

Once Arnold was admonishing a player and the linebacker swung at the coach. Perez rushed to the rescue.

Legendary Mets scout Jim Hughes, who later worked for the Jays, drafted Gibbons 24th overall. His initial offer was $45,000 US.

“Hughes didn’t say a lot, but said the Mets couldn’t go much higher,” Gibbons remembered. “After his visit, I said to my dad that maybe they won’t sign me. We called Hughes’ hotel and asked: ‘Will you pay $55,000?’ Hughes said: ‘Be right over.’”

New York chose Darryl Strawberry first over-all in North America and Billy Beane 23rd.

“They both held out over a month. Darryl got more than $200,000, Billy more than $100,000,” Gibbons said. “I asked Darryl what his initial offer was ... $45,000.

“They signed Jay Tibbs in the second and gave him $90,000.”

Gibbons bought a new car, a Mazda 280ZX, with the signing bonus and invested the rest.

Of the Mets’ first four picks in 1980, only Beane, now GM of the Oakland A’s, and Gibbons remain in the game.



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