Gabe Kapler forced to defend managerial record, handling of 2015 incident with Dodgers in introductory grilling as Giants manager
As the Giants unveiled Gabe Kapler, the usual optimism associated with the introduction of a new manager was replaced by scrutiny over his past.
Two questions into an hourlong news conference Wednesday in San Francisco, the Giants' fan base was described as "fractured" and "disappointed" over the team's choice of a new manager, who was labeled "polarizing" and "a lightning rod who comes with a lot of baggage."
Welcome to the Bay Area, Gabe Kapler.
It hardly seems possible, but Kapler actually might have been more unpopular on the first day of his new job than he was on the last day of his old one. The deposed Phillies manager was introduced at Oracle Park as the 38th manager in Giants history -- but only the fifth in the last 34 years -- then got grilled like a hot dog at the ballpark concession stand.
There were standard baseball questions about what the 44-year-old Kapler learned from skippering the Phillies to a two-year record of 161-163 and why Giants president Farhan Zaidi believed Kapler was the right choice less than a month after getting fired in Philadelphia. But the biggest topic was Kapler’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations involving players in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system when he was their director of player development in 2015.
Kapler and Zaidi, the Dodgers’ general manager at the time, said they learned from their mistakes, namely not seeking legal advice or informing law enforcement. They vowed to be proactive in the community, specifically with their players, to prevent similar incidents from occurring.
“I don’t expect to gain your trust right now in this press conference,” Kapler told reporters. “But know that over the course of time that I’m going to be able to do that.”
Details of the Dodgers incidents came to light after Kapler's first year at the helm of the Phillies. General manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail defended Kapler and stated confidence that they vetted him thoroughly before hiring him after the 2017 season.
"I don't think everything he did was a great idea, being 'Captain Hindsight,'" MacPhail said in February, referring to Kapler's attempt to handle the 2015 situation internally rather than contact police. "But there was nothing new that I became aware of."
Restoring his reputation won’t be the only challenge for Kapler, let go by Phillies owner John Middleton on Oct. 10 despite Klentak’s strong desire to retain him and replaced two weeks later by Joe Girardi. He’s inheriting a Giants team that went 77-85 last season, might lose longtime ace Madison Bumgarner in free agency, and is banking on 32-year-old catcher Buster Posey’s return from right hip surgery.
Zaidi hired Kapler over Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro. Zaidi cited Kapler's ability to connect with players as a primary reason for choosing him.
But Zaidi also noted that he was "a little bit overwhelmed by the unsolicited texts and phone calls that I got from players and staff in Philly supporting his candidacy here and talking about how well-respected and liked he was in the Philadelphia clubhouse."
Kapler, who believes strongly in analytics, said two years in Philadelphia taught him about the importance of weighing a data-driven approach with listening to the needs of his players. He was better at striking that balance this year than in 2018, when he stubbornly kept Carlos Santana in the No. 2 spot in the lineup for the season’s first month even though he felt more comfortable batting cleanup.
There were still times, though, when Kapler wasn't responsive enough to his players. It wasn't until right-hander Zach Eflin went against the organization's desire for him to elevate four-seam fastballs rather than relying on his two-seamer that he turned his season around.
“Sometimes the smallest strategic in-game decision or baseball decision doesn’t trump instilling a lot of confidence in a player that has to go up into the batter’s box or the pitcher that has to deliver his best pitch and do so fluidly without being bogged down by some of the numbers,” Kapler said. “Not saying that one way or the other is more appropriate, but I do say that one of the things I learned is how to blend those things well to inspire the confidence of as many players as possible.”
But Kapler's biggest downfall with the Phillies was his inability to connect with the fan base. He memorably admitted he's "not [bleeping] Dallas Green and never will be," prompting Klentak to recently say that "Kap had a hard time gaining acceptance."
Will it be any different in San Francisco, where Kapler will be replacing three-time World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy on top of dealing with the fallout of the Dodgers scandal?
“I don’t know,” Klentak said at the general managers’ meetings in Arizona. “I’d be lying if I told you that I knew a lot about that market. I’ve never lived out there. I’m just happy for him personally because I know that’s what he wanted. He really wants to manage at the major-league level and I’m happy that he gets a chance to do that.”