Say this about the Phillies: For as long as they deliberated about the future of the previous manager, they are expediting the search for the next one.
Over the last few days, general manager Matt Klentak met with Buck Showalter, Joe Girardi, and Dusty Baker, all experienced candidates with strong track records. Over the next few days, each will have longer, follow-up interviews with a broader range of people, presumably including managing partner John Middleton.
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A choice — from that managerial trio, in all likelihood — could come next week, with an announcement possible next Thursday, a day off between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series.
That’s it. No muss, no fuss. And exactly the opposite of that news conference at Citizens Bank Park last Friday.
Speaking of that 57-minute head-spinner, it was notable that it all began with team president Andy MacPhail’s outline of the process by which the Phillies came to dismiss Gabe Kapler. With Klentak pushing to retain Kapler and Middleton ultimately deciding to make a change, MacPhail viewed it as his role to get them back in sync privately and stage-manage the situation publicly.
“I have John. I’ve got Matt. They’re on different sides here. I gave them my opinion,” said MacPhail, who shared only that he urged Middleton to get more points of view before moving on from Kapler. “But then my chief responsibility came when we’ve got to find a process here to get everybody back together and unified and all get on the same page going forward. Now we just go back again and we retool and we find the next manager.”
MacPhail appears to be having a big impact on the search, too.
If Showalter, Girardi, and Baker have anything in common beyond their long managerial resumes, it’s their associations with MacPhail, who figures to have unique perspective on their respective qualifications, including their literacy in analytics, a factor important to both Middleton and Klentak.
MacPhail worked as the Chicago Cubs’ president from the end of the 1994 season through 2006. Girardi, a former catcher and native of Peoria, Ill., spent three seasons with his hometown Cubs (2000-02) late in his career and was highly regarded by MacPhail, who tried to hire him to manage the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. Although Girardi declined the job, citing a desire to stay closer to his family, he also acknowledged having “the utmost respect for Andy.”
After the 2002 season, MacPhail and then-general manager Jim Hendry hired Baker to manage the Cubs. At the time, MacPhail described Baker to the Chicago Tribune as “an enormously popular manager with his players.” The Cubs made the playoffs in Baker’s first season and came within one victory of the World Series (hello, Steve Bartman!), then missed the postseason in the next three years before Baker and MacPhail were broomed out of town.
MacPhail went to Baltimore in 2007, and his first order of business was replacing deposed manager Sam Perlozzo. After getting turned down by Girardi, he stuck with interim manager Dave Trembley. By 2010, though, the Orioles were ready for a bigger change. MacPhail's solution: Showalter.
“We have a young core of players that are struggling, taking a step backwards,” MacPhail told the Baltimore Sun. “They haven’t been exposed to winning-type environments. We, for the last couple of months, have been trying to find somebody that has had some experience in creating that environment, that has been exposed to young rosters before and knows how to prepare young players to be as good as they possibly can be.”
Sound familiar? You can almost hear MacPhail saying those words at a news conference next week.
The point is, MacPhail has familiarity with —- and admiration for —- all three finalists. Last week, he noted the importance of the relationship between a manager and general manager. If Klentak has questions about working with Showalter, Girardi or Baker, MacPhail figures to be able to advise him.
Moreover, Middleton could turn to MacPhail for expertise on which candidate would fit best at a stage in the Phillies’ rebuilding where anything less than a winning season and their first playoff appearance since 2011 is cause for people to lose their jobs. This time around, Kapler took the fall. A year from now, it could be Klentak or MacPhail.
“It’s John’s and my goal that Matt go out, start the search,” MacPhail said last week. “At the end, he’s going to have to have the approval of John and I, just like with Gabe [two years ago].
"John or I could have vetoed Gabe. We chose not to. But I can’t imagine hiring someone that Matt is not fully on board with. There might be a variety of guys that fit that criteria, and then maybe John and I will have some influence on who we think might be the best fit.”