Joe Girardi had to be restrained in June from the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park when members of the Washington Nationals coaching staff were heckling him after he asked an umpire to inspect their starting pitcher for foreign substances.
In hindsight, maybe Girardi was just trying to make his way over there to hire one of them.
The Phillies have hired Kevin Long, who was the loudest chirper of Girardi that night, to be their new hitting coach. Long’s hiring, which a source confirmed, was first reported by The Athletic.
Long and Girardi’s history goes back further than just that night. Long was Girardi’s hitting coach for seven seasons with the Yankees and he’ll replace Joe Dillon, who was Long’s assistant in Washington before spending two seasons as the Phillies’ hitting coach.
The Phillies fired Dillon earlier this month after the lineup finished roughly at league average in most offensive categories. They hit .240 with a .726 OPS last season and had the 15th-highest home run total in the majors. Just two Phillies — Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins — had an OPS better than .800.
But the lineup Long will work with could look much different. The Phillies are in the market this winter for a “middle of the lineup hitter” to protect Harper and have yet to determine who they’ll play at shortstop, third base, left field, and center field.
Long was Washington’s hitting coach for the last four seasons, which included the team’s 2019 World Series title. He coached Harper in 2018, helping him overcome an underwhelming first half to hit .300 with a .972 OPS after the All-Star break. This decision should please Harper, who was close with Dillon and holds Long in high regard.
Long was hired by the Yankees in 2007, one year before Girardi was hired to manage there. Girardi fired him in 2014 and he quickly moved to the Mets, where the 54-year-old coached for three seasons before joining the Nationals.
During Long’s tenure, the Nationals led the NL in batting average, led the majors in on-base percentage, and had the third-highest OPS in the NL. Juan Soto, who is the toughest opposition to Harper’s MVP case, credits Long for his rise. Long was not under contract with the Nationals for 2022 and chose a reunion with Girardi over a return to D.C.
The Nationals were upset with Girardi in June after he asked an umpire to check Max Scherzer’s hair for foreign substances on the first night that umpires would inspect pitchers under the league’s crackdown on “sticky stuff.” They hollered from their dugout, prompting Girardi to leave his perch and head toward them. An umpire quickly ejected him and moved him back to his side. They never came to blows and four months later Girardi and Long are back on the same team.
“I mean, I didn’t care for it,” Girardi said the next day. “That’s their opinion and their option to do. But I don’t necessarily have to like it. Just like they don’t have to like what I do.”