Toronto fires GM Ash

By Larry Millson
October 3, 2001

TORONTO–Gord Ash, a Toronto native working for his hometown team, devoted half of his life to the Blue Jays: in their ticket office, on their grounds crew and finally as their general manager.

The association that began in 1978 ended Oct. 2 when Ash, 49, was fired after another disappointing season in Toronto.

“I am very disappointed in the on-field performance of players and groups of players who did not step up either in leadership roles or performance roles,” team president Paul Godfrey said. “What we need now is to go in a different direction, with vision and experience and bringing a winning formula to Toronto and the general manager’s position.”

Ash, who joined the Blue Jays after working for a bank, always enjoyed the challenge of baseball. “This is not a job, it’s a way of life,” he said. “I’ve had 25 years of going a hundred miles an hour. It’s going to be tough to pull over to the rest stop now.”

Ash will consider his next career move. It might be in baseball, in another sport or in another field.

“You try to put it in some proper perspective, and given the world events over the last month, losing your job doesn’t seem to matter too much in relation to what’s gone on,” he said.

Until a successor is hired, assistant general managers Dave Stewart and Tim McCleary will take on added responsibilities. And Stewart, who is seeking a major league GM job, could be a candidate.

Godfrey said he will immediately begin a search for Ash’s replacement. “I would hate to see it go on for more than a month’s time,” he said. “But if waiting three or four more days, or a week, means I’ll get the person I want, I will do it.”

After going through the glory years that included World Series championships in 1992 and ’93 under Pat Gillick, the Blue Jays’ fortunes and attendance fell. In those years the Blue Jays were considered a large-market team and drew four million fans a season to SkyDome. They had one of the largest payrolls in baseball.

But Ash, 49, had to deal with unsettled ownership and an often unpredictable budget during a tenure that began in the strike-delayed 1995 season.

That changed last September, when Rogers Communications bought the team. Ash got a three-year contract (which he will continue to collect on) and the team’s payroll rose to $75 million. But the Jays regressed from 2000, when they were 83-79 and finished third in the American League East.

Under rookie manager Buck Martinez, the Blue Jays started out 16-9 in April. But they were out of the race by the all-star break and again labeled as underachievers.

The Blue Jays’ best record under Ash was in 1998, when they won 88 games under Tim Johnson, who was fired in spring training the next year after he had admitted lying about his involvement in the Vietnam War.

Ash said he was satisfied that he worked as hard as he could. “Did I make mistakes? Sure. But part of that job is making some mistakes,” he said.

One of the mistakes was hiring Johnson as manager. Another was trading pitcher Woody Williams for pitcher Joey Hamilton in December 1998 and signing him to a three-year deal worth $17 million. Hamilton was a disappointment and had shoulder surgery at the end of his first season with Toronto.

Ash traded lefthander David Wells to the White Sox for lefthander Mike Sirotka, but Sirotka couldn’t pitch in 2001 because of a shoulder injury.

On the plus side, he acquired Jose Cruz Jr., Brad Fullmer, Dan Plesac and Paul Quantrill in trades. Plesac was traded to the Diamondbacks for Tony Batista in June 1999, a deal that turned out to be a steal until Batista was lost to the Orioles on waivers this year.

Ash said he though his firing became inevitable when public criticism peaked in August. Godfrey said after a newspaper article in August reported that Ash was going to be fired, Ash asked him about the rumors.

“I told him to carry on,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey said there would have to be chemistry between him and the new GM. Gillick, now with with Mariners, is often mentioned in connection with a return to the Blue Jays, though he continually denies interest in the job. Yankees GM Brian Cashman is another possibility, as are Canadian Doug Melvin and Bob Watson, former GM of the Astros and Yankees.