- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

BALTIMORE There was a time when a Toronto-Baltimore series was as electric an atmosphere as you would find at Camden Yards. The night Fernando Valenzuela shut out the Blue Jays 6-0 to put the Orioles in a tie for first place with the Blue Jays in 1993. The night Orioles closer Doug Jones blew a four-run lead in the top of the ninth in 1995 for a 12-10 loss to Toronto, setting off the worst booing ever seen by the home crowd.
And the man who supplied some of that electricity slipped into town quietly still wearing a Blue Jays uniform but, in his role as the Blue Jays hitting coach, nearly invisible and forgotten to the crowd at Camden Yards last night for the opening game of a three-game series between Toronto and Baltimore.
There was a time when former Toronto manager Cito Gaston couldn't show his face in Baltimore for fear of being cursed at or even worse all because of a pitching decision in an exhibition game.
Of course, the exhibition game was the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards. And the pitching decision was Gaston refusing to put Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina into the game.
It remains one of the all-time classic Camden Yards moments. Mussina began warming up on the mound in the eighth inning, with a 9-3 American League lead, and they showed it on the JumboTron. Fans began cheering for Mussina, calling for him to be put into the game. But Gaston didn't, and the game ended in a raucous scene with a stadium full of fans roaring their displeasure.
The controversy would continue for much longer. Fans booed and tastelessly chanted nearly every time Gaston returned to Camden Yards. Sometimes it was much more sinister than simple booing, though.
"At its worst, it was pretty ugly," he said. "I had people call me and threaten me, threaten my life. I used to love to come to this city. It's still a great city. But people have been not very nice to me here at times, and it's hurt my family and hurt me. I think it's gone away some since [Mussina's] gone and people have calmed down about it."
The truth of what happened that night may never be revealed. It is still a source of contention between Mussina and Gaston. This spring, Mussina told me that not getting a chance to pitch before the hometown crowd in that game was one of his worst moments in an Orioles uniform. "There was something strange going on there," Mussina said. "I don't know what it was, some kind of revenge thing. It didn't make sense. You had a game that was wide open, 9-3."
But Gaston, 56, maintains he made it clear to Mussina before the game that he was not going to pitch, and there was nothing strange about it. "Right in front of all of the pitchers, I told Mussina and also told Pat Hentgen that the only way they would pitch was if we had an extra-inning ball game," Gaston said. "Mussina had missed a start or so because he had some problem with his arm, and Hentgen had pitched that Sunday. It was all explained before the game, which is what upset me and hurt me because he knew."
Hentgen, then one of Gaston's pitchers with Toronto but now in an Orioles uniform, backed Gaston's version. "He called the pitchers into his office before the game and told us what innings we were going to pitch," Hentgen said. "He looked at Mussina and I and said that neither one of us would pitch tonight… . He told us before the game that Moose and I would strictly be safety valves in case the game went into extra innings."
That decision made Cito Gaston the manager public enemy No. 1 in Baltimore. Last night, as Cito Gaston the hitting coach stood near the batting cage, no one noticed.
It's a unique situation for Gaston, the most successful manager in Blue Jays history, with World Series championships in 1992 and 1993 and four division titles. From 1989 to 1997, Gaston's teams won more games (681-635) than any other Toronto manager. He was fired, though, following the 1997 season after four straight losing seasons but came back as the team's hitting coach in 1999. It's not the typical career path, but Gaston is secure enough in his resume and abilities to take a lesser position from the team that fired him because he likes the job the job he used to have before being asked to take over as Toronto manager in 1989.
"It has been good for me," Gaston said. "I'm proud to wear this uniform. I live in Toronto. I love the team and the city. I get along with the people in the organization. Even the people that fired me asked me to come back. [Toronto general manager] Gord Ash and I get along. Maybe it was time for me to go at that particular time. I'm not sure. But I have no animosity in my heart, or else I wouldn't be here."
What makes it even stranger is that Gaston isn't managing anywhere. He has the resume and the respect of his former players. "If you can't play for Cito, you've got a problem," Hentgen said. "He's a class guy and a great baseball man. He would be a good choice to manage any team.
Gaston said he has had some interviews, though it took a while after he was fired. "It took a year and a half to get an interview," he said. "That was a little odd. But I enjoy what I'm doing."
He had hoped to get the job with the Indians after they fired Mike Hargrove in 1999 but didn't. He said he was interviewed for the Milwaukee job, but Gaston said he told the Brewers that they might be better off with a younger manager for that team.
Still, he hopes to manage again someday "if the right circumstances come along."
It would be good to see Cito Gaston front and center again. If nothing else, it might create a spark again when he came back to Camden Yards.

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