There are plenty of interested observers as owner John Middleton methodically decides the fate of manager Gabe Kapler.
One of the most interested of all might be Ed Wade, the former Phillies general manager who knows what it’s like to wait a while only to find out your services are no longer wanted, which may or may not be the case for Kapler.
Wade lived through that experience twice and he was also the recipient of his first general manager job when Lee Thomas was fired by David Montgomery in 1997 just a couple weeks before Christmas.
“That one caught me totally off guard,” Wade said during a telephone interview. “On a Sunday evening my phone rang and David asked me to come out to his house to speak to him. I drove out there and he told me we were going to make the change and he wanted me to be the interim GM.
“I had a lot of mixed emotions on that one because I had this incredible relationship with Lee. I went in Monday to the office knowing what was going to happen and David did not get around to telling Lee until the early afternoon.
"It was a strange feeling because in addition to [former Houston Astros GM and president] Tal Smith, I owed Lee so much in terms of my own career. This guy took a chance on me as an assistant and gave me so much responsibility, so this was crushing in that respect.”
Wade, however, defended Montgomery’s methodical decision on Thomas and even his own delayed firing in 2005.
“The people making the decisions are not making the decisions that everybody else thinks are appropriate,” Wade said. “The clock may be ticking, but making the most expeditious decision is not always the right decision.”
Wade’s own dismissals as a general manager took him by surprise. The first came with the Phillies after the 2005 season, Charlie Manuel’s first year as manager. The Phillies had won 88 games and just missed out on the wild-card playoff spot, which went to the Astros when they beat the Cubs on the season’s final day.
“In all honesty, I didn’t think I was going to be fired,” Wade said. “I knew I was the lightning rod for all the negativity from the outside, but we had a great second half and we just missed the playoffs. On the train ride back from Washington after the last game, I discussed re-signing Billy Wagner with David and we renewed the coaches contracts the following week.
“I was quite surprised on Columbus Day morning when David asked me to come into his office. I didn’t expect it to happen and I blocked out a lot of that stuff about my job security. We were 14 games over .500 that year and 43 over during a five-year period. I knew what we were trying to build. We wanted to get good and stay good, but obviously it took too much time and ever since then I’ve hated Columbus Day.”
Six years later, after an ownership change in Houston, Wade had a conversation with incoming Astros chairman Jim Crane about his future with the organization.
“I just want to see your plane,” Crane told Wade.
Wade thought his job was secure, and then he was fired the next day, Thanksgiving eve. He has no ill will toward Thanksgiving, however.
If the Phillies fire Kapler, Wade will also have an interest in what direction the team goes in selecting its next manager. The Phillies have never hired a high-profile candidate. In fact, they have never hired a manager who had won a playoff series before coming to Philadelphia.
The most high-profile hire in franchise history was Harry Wright, who won six titles in the late 1800s with the Boston Red Stockings before taking over the Philadelphia Quakers in 1884. He did not win anything in Philadelphia.
In 2004, Wade had a chance to hire Jim Leyland, who had won three division titles in Pittsburgh and a World Series with the Florida Marlins. Leyland was the people’s choice, but after an extensive interview process, Wade opted for his own special assistant, Charlie Manuel, and we all know how that worked out.
“First let me say the two most difficult things I ever had to do was fire Terry Francona and Larry Bowa," Wade said.
"As for the hiring of Charlie, it was an excruciating process. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t locked in on Charlie from the beginning. I thought we really had a good list that also included people like Buddy Bell and Don Baylor. Leyland would have been a good hire, but after spending time with Charlie over the previous year and watching him interact with our players, I just felt he was the best man to replace Bowa, who I still think is the smartest baseball man I’ve ever met.”
Leyland, of course, also went on to have more success, leading the Detroit Tigers to four playoff appearances and two American League pennants before retiring after the 2013 season.
Now, the Phillies have another chance to hire a high-profile manager. Three men who have won a World Series (Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi, and Mike Scioscia) are available and the Phillies are among the most attractive franchises looking for a new manager. If I was ranking them, I’d place the Phillies job second behind the Cubs, with the Mets and Giants tied for a close third.
But first Middleton must make up his mind about Gabe Kapler. Ed Wade knows such decisions are difficult and not always expedited.