Players, skippers make returns in second tours
Coming back to old stomping grounds with previous team not uncommon
When John Gibbons settled -- or resettled, technically -- into his Blue Jays uniform late last month in Toronto, the newly-minted skipper bridged a gap from a previous franchise era to the newest one.
What's old is new again, with Gibbons returning to a place he managed from 2004-08 to give it another go.
"It's an exciting time, because I've been out of it a while," Gibbons said at this month's Winter Meetings. "One thing, it's always good to see some familiar faces that we have here."
Players around baseball -- and even coaches and managers like Gibbons -- are bringing new meaning to "turn two," taking advantage of opportunities to return to cities they previously inhabited and carry on their careers.
In every case, it's bridging a gap for that individual. In the case of infielder Omar Infante, who was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers midway through last season, it was bridging a gap between generations of Detroit teams.
Upon his return to the Motor City -- Infante was signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1999 and spent the first six years of his big league career in Detroit -- the utility man became just the second player (Ramon Santiago the other) on the roster who was also on the dreadful 2003 team that lost 119 games.
"It's nice to have a feel, because we know that he's a quality individual," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said of bringing a player back for another turn, though also noting Infante's previous tenure didn't play much into the thinking behind the trade. "A lot of people in the organization that know him hold him in high regard. But I can't say it was a major factor."
It's proven so far to be a mutual success in Detroit. Infante brought a steady average, a good glove and flexibility to a team whose second basemen hit just .213/.301/.577 in 2012 (Infante's own line was .257/.385/.668) and he helped lead the Tigers back to the World Series.
The context varies in these situations. Often times, hometown and fan favorites will return for a last hurrah before retirement. Tom Glavine did it in Atlanta, starting 13 games in 2008. Forty-year-old Andy Pettitte is doing it in New York, where his 2012 comeback has been a stirring success, save for an injury that sidelined him nearly three months.
And that doesn't even include players like Pat Burrell and Mike Cameron, who signed one-day contracts in order to retire with the Phillies and Mariners, respectively.
In other instances, players feel their best chance for success may be with a club they left previously. Consider Jeff Francis, who chose to stay in -- of all places, for a pitcher -- Denver this year after re-signing with the Rockies in June. He was drafted by the Rockies in 2002, and started Game 1 of the only World Series in club history, in 2007.
Then Francis missed the entire 2009 season with a shoulder injury, was limited to 20 starts during a comeback year in '10 and spent the past two seasons in the Reds and Royals systems re-establishing himself.
Francis has never duplicated the success he had in Colorado from 2005-07, but he feels like Denver is the place to do it.
"This is where I've spent 90 percent of my career," Francis said. "For me, there would be no better place to have a winning team. It's an accomplishment for this team to win some big games. I had gone through it before with these guys. I think I have what it takes, and it would be a lot of fun."
All said, with the variety of circumstances surrounding players' returns to cities they previously played in, it can be difficult to find much of a correlation or a trend. Some play better, others don't -- whether it's at the peak of their career or the twilight.
But with the new hand Gibbons has been dealt in Toronto, and the Blue Jays sitting pretty as the potential American League East favorite after he never won more than 87 games in a season from 2004-08, you have to figure the second go-around will be a memorable one.
"Now it's the job of the manager and the coaching staff to pull it all together and get the most out of these guys," Gibbons said. "But it's a good position to be in. This job came out of nowhere for me, and to be sitting there looking at some of the players that they acquired in doing that makes it that much nicer."