The Performer: Cito Gaston

On honesty, earning respect and why winners always remain calm — no matter what.

Clarence (Cito) Gaston played in the major leagues for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until he was 48 and led the Toronto Blue Jays to their first of two consecutive World Series titles that he etched his name into the game’s history. Only 20 others in history have reached baseball’s pinnacle more than once. Now in his final season before retiring, Gaston is enjoying one last go-round with a roster of young up-and-comers, and reflecting on all baseball has taught him about life and leadership. He spoke with Canadian Business editor Steve Maich.

Born: 03/17/44

Major league seasons as a player: 11

Career home runs: 91

Seasons as a major league manager: 12

Career wins as a manager (as of June 2):840

World Series titles: 2

What’s been the key ingredient in your success? I think it’s people I’ve met through life, people I’ve learned stuff from, people that I admired or listened to. I guess it goes way back to when I first started playing. There was a guy named Boom-Boom Beck who was a pitcher with Philadelphia. He taught me to listen to everybody. If your coaches say 1,001 words, that one word might help you.

What do you think it takes to be a great manager?

[Laughs] Great players. You gotta have good players. But I think also you have to know your players, and that means not asking them to do any more than what they can do, and knowing which button to touch to make them get to where they need to go. There’s some that you pat on the butt, there’s some that you get in their face, and there’s some that you just leave alone. And my one policy is I never lie to my players.

Be totally open with the players?

Well, you can’t tell them everything, but you don’t have to lie to them, you know? You can’t tell them everything because a lot of times it would only hurt their feelings. But you never lie.

In 1989 and 2008, you came in and took over a team that was in disarray. How do you turn around a situation like that?

Well, you try to find out as quick as you can where the mess is at, and then you go clean it. [Laughs] When I got here in 2008, we had a great pitching staff. We weren’t hitting. They had a policy that they were trying to walk. They were an on-base-percentage type team. And not everybody can do that, so you’re asking people to do things they can’t do, and you also are taking away their aggressiveness. And that’s one thing we changed right away. We said, “Hey, we’re going to swing the bats here,” and we started to swing the bats, and things happened better for us.

What will you miss about this job?

You know, you always miss the fellows and the camaraderie. I’ll miss the game, too. The best part of the day for me is when that game starts, because you never know what you might see. Every day is different. Every game is different. I love being in the dugout.

You seem very calm during games. Is that a choice?

I don’t think you can lead people if you’re not calm. I always say whoever stays the calmest, stays the coolest, is going to win out.

Do you think that applies to other pursuits?

I think so. I really do. I think that you listen to somebody that’s talking calmly to you. If people are screaming at you, you’re not going to listen to them too long, are you? You don’t even want to be around them.

How is the game today different from the game that you played?

Well, I think the money part of it is different. My first year in the big leagues, the minimal salary was $7,500, and the most I ever made was $60,000 a year. The minimal salary is over $400,000 now. If you can go get one guy in baseball to tell you he’ll play this game for free, I’d like to see him. It’s business.

Does that make it harder to manage players?

Yeah, it’s different now because guys have longer contracts, guys are making more money, and, you know, you can bench anybody you want to, but I don’t think ownership would like to see you bench a guy that’s making $12 million a year. So you can’t control those guys like you used to. But I played 10 years in the big leagues, and I also try to treat my players the way I would like to be treated and not the way I was treated at times.

How’s that?

I would want my manager not to lie to me. And, you know, if he takes me out of the lineup, tell me the reason why. Just treat me like a man. People want respect, but in order to get respect, you have to give respect, so I try to give my players respect, too.

You were out of the game for several years. Some people thought you might be finished.

It didn’t bother me. I was a little puzzled at first, because it took two years before I even got an interview for [another] major-league job and, you know, I had a pretty good resum?. But I think that one of the best things in life that I think we’re all kind of looking for ??? and we don’t really say this ??? is peace of mind. If you can get peace within yourself, it helps you to deal with a lot of things. If you can do that, you’re going to have a pretty good life.

A lot of people would be angry. They’d be resentful.

Yeah. Well, you know what? My mom taught me when I was growing up how to treat people, and also to forgive people. Those people that you’re all bitter and upset about, they’re not thinking about you. They’re at home sleeping. So why are you wasting all that hatred, all that time worrying about them?

How do you deal with being publicly second-guessed?

Well, people are always going to second-guess you. To be honest, I don’t read the paper, because those guys that second-guess me or talk about me, the next day they’re right here in my office smiling at me like they didn’t say a word. So it’s best if I don’t know that. I just believe in what I’m doing, and I try to do the best I can every day, and if that’s not good enough, then you have to get somebody else.

How do you want to be remembered?

Just as a guy that went out and did everything he could to win, in the right way. And also I want to be remembered as a guy who never lied to anyone, and as a guy that cared about other people, which I do. That’s all I can ask for. I certainly don’t take anything for granted, and I never felt sorry for myself, because just look around, you know? I have a great life. [Laughs] And look, people are not going to remember me anyway! That’s OK!