Doc Rivers isn’t coddling Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons; when they stink, he plugs his nose like the rest of us. Since he took over the Flyers in 2019, Alain Vigneault has targeted veteran stars such as Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek as well as goalie Carter Hart, the club’s hope for the future.
On Sunday, Joe Girardi proved that he belonged with them in Philly.
After Phillies second baseman Jean Segura misplayed a soft liner while trying to engineer a showboat double play, Girardi roasted Segura — on the bench, between innings, for everyone to hear and see. This timing was not coincidental. Girardi did it there, and he did it then, so that the entire team and the entire viewing audience would witness: Play badly for him and there will be repercussions.
We have entered an era of accountability in Philadelphia sports. It is quite welcome, and it is long overdue. The City of Brotherly Love has no love for half-done work. It hates indifferent effort. And it has no patience for coaches who tolerate either.
No longer do we have Brett Brown deferring to the Sixers’ young, spoiled stars. No longer is Dave Hakstol woodenly deflecting criticisms at frontline Flyers. No longer is Gabe Kapler shining fake sun over dreary Phillies performances.
Nick Sirianni should take notice. He might be only 39 years old, but an NFL coach must take a firm hand with an Eagles team both top-heavy with veterans and flush with youth.
Girardi showed him how.
‘Just catch the ball’
With a runner on first base, Segura let the liner die in front of him, hoping to snag it on one hop and fire to first. Then, the first baseman would fire to second to get the runner with a tag play. It would have been a clever, elite maneuver, except Segura didn’t cleanly field the one-hopper. Both runners were safe.
The Phillies had committed three errors the previous night. Girardi had promised afterward, “I always take care of stuff.”
Sunday, Girardi took care of stuff. In public. On purpose. Just to show us, and the rest of the team, that he meant business. And he went after the best healthy everyday player on the roster.
Segura leads the team with a .320 batting average. He didn’t commit an error in his first 21 games this season. But Girardi cannot abide even his most valuable player making three errors in two days. It had become a team-wide theme.
On Saturday, Segura trespassed in shortstop Nick Maton’s territory, nearly collided with him, and dropped a fly ball.
On Wednesday, right fielder Bryce Harper (who was hurt Sunday) did the same in the sixth inning in Washington: A fly ball that belonged to center fielder Odubel Herrera fell between them, which forced extra innings. The Phillies won that game, but it was ugly.
After Segura’s error Saturday, Girardi appeared at a loss:
“Just catch the ball. ... It has to be they’re just not following the ball in their glove. Miscommunication? It shouldn’t happen at this level.”
After Segura’s grandstand misplay Sunday, Girardi confronted Segura in the dugout. Segura became agitated, cursed in Girardi’s general direction, and eventually was restrained by third-base coach Dusty Wathan. He was restrained the way a person who doesn’t really want to fight allows himself to be restrained. But still.
Postgame, Girardi offered terse and opaque replies to questions about the incident: “It was a bench ‘conversation,’ meant for the bench.”
Which means Girardi wanted to send a message to the entire bench: These sorts of plays are unacceptable.
Girardi’s mood also made clear that he’s as disgusted as the fans are with the Phillies’ sloppy play.
This is a refreshing change from Kapler’s act in 2018 and 2019. Kapler never would have confronted a player in the dugout. Afterward, he would have defended Segura’s indifference with some vomitorious regurgitation of New Age gobbledygook.
After all, Kapler let his players play video games during Phillies games.
Kap wasn’t the only softie in Philly.
One of Doug Pederson’s biggest mistakes in his five years as Eagles coach lay in refusing to criticize Carson Wentz when Wentz struggled. Wentz grew ever more entitled, spoiled, and insubordinate, and eventually cost Pederson his job. Look it up, Nick.
Similarly, Brown’s biggest mistake in his seven years as Sixers head coach was embracing the Embiid circus. When Embiid dubbed himself “The Process,” he hijacked the brand that represented the rebuilding effort Brown oversaw — and thereby elevated himself above Brown, above the Sixers’ general managers, and above his teammates. Brown never controlled Embiid. And, so, Embiid never was in proper NBA shape. Embiid often declined to play. Nor did Brown ever control Simmons, a turnover-machine point guard who refused to shoot (granted, that’s still an issue). That’s why Brown was fired after the 2019-20 season.
When Rivers got the job, he warned Embiid this summer that there was a new sheriff in town. Rivers said he told the center, “For us to be great, he’s going to have to be great, and he’s going to have to play as many games as possible that will allow him to be in the playoffs. It goes down to his conditioning and his mental preparation.” Embiid had an MVP season.
Hakstol? He never really said anything in public about any player, or anything, for that matter. We’re not sure he wasn’t a hologram.
Vigneault, meanwhile, is 100% French-Canadian flesh and blood. He ripped Giroux and Voracek about 20 minutes after he hit town in 2019. When he benched Hart in March, he scorched the kid’s “practice habits.”
On Sunday, Girardi joined this club.