It’s telling that on the day Joe Girardi lost his job as manager of the Phillies, he went to see Rob Thomson, the man who be would replacing him. Thomson served as Girardi’s bench coach and third base coach for the entirety of his time managing the Yankees, and was Girardi’s bench coach in Philadelphia from 2020-2022.
It got emotional. The two men hugged. Girardi told Thomson that he was fine, and that it was time to move forward. And then a few hours later, Girardi called into the MLB Network radio and gave his friend a ringing endorsement.
“I would argue he’s the best coach I’ve ever been around,” Girardi said of Thomson on Friday morning. “He is more prepared than any coach I’ve ever been around. He has great baseball sense. I think he deserved a chance a long time ago. I hope he turns this around and runs this team to the playoffs and they do great and that he continues as a manager. I love the guy to death. I could almost argue that every win except the wins with the Florida Marlins, Rob Thomson has had a hand in my life. A huge hand.”
For Thomson, it was a bittersweet moment. He’d dreamed of being a big league manager since he was a young coach. He’d been a candidate for a few managerial openings over the years, but had never gotten the job. After a while, he stopped focusing on it, pouring his energy into being the best bench he could possibly be. He didn’t expect the opportunity he’d long been waiting for to come at the expense of his friend. But it did.
“Joe and I have been together for a long time,” Thomson said on Friday. “We’ve had the highest of highs, [won a] world championship together, a lot of playoff wins together. I think we’ve battled through some tough times. There’s a bond there that will never be broken. Having said that, when [president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski] offered me this job [as interim manager], I think that the decision of Joe’s firing was already done. I think I would be foolish to turn down a major league manager’s job. That’s my opinion.
“I felt so fortunate because I know of all of the great baseball minds in that coaches room, and they could have picked any of them. It’s a little bittersweet, but we’ve got to get to the point where we move forward.”
Thomson doesn’t have an easy task ahead of him. The Phillies are 22-29 and 12 games back in the division. They have one of the shakiest bullpens in baseball, and have long made costly defensive mistakes. One managerial firing is not going to change that. But the Phillies believe that a different voice was needed in the clubhouse, and that Thomson’s voice, specifically, is the one that can shake things up.
“I think he cares,” general manager Sam Fuld said on Friday. “I think he’s going to listen, he’s going to communicate with players and staff, and I just think he’s going to be a steadying force.”
A native of Canada, Thomson, 58, spent the bulk of his career with the Yankees organization. Over the span of 28 years in New York, he worked as a minor league coach, a minor league manager (for one season, in 1995, with single-A Oneonta), and worked in player development before switching over the big league side, where he worked as a field coordinator, a bench coach, and a third base coach. It’s that breadth of experience that Fuld thinks will serve Thomson in his new role.
“He’s seen a lot of major league baseball,” Fuld said. “He’s dealt with a lot of different players, teammates, staff. He’s just been around a lot and I think he’s adaptive and open-minded, and because of that, I think he’s willing to recognize that every situation is different and he’s able to draw upon his experiences in the Yankees organization and his previous experiences here, but recognize that the 2022 Phillies are unique. Different personnel, different circumstances, different pressures, and I think he’s open-minded enough and adaptive enough to make the changes.”
Fuld said that this wasn’t an easy decision. The front office had deliberations on which coach to choose for this role. Part of what gave Thomson the edge was his leadership skills and his steadying presence.
“I think he’s a rock,” Fuld said. “He doesn’t allow any moment get to him too much. And that’s a tremendous asset to have in this role. And I think that’s the one thing that comes to mind, having been around Rob for the past five years now. You can always lean on Rob for steadiness through the good and bad.
“I can think of a lot of tough losses. It’s funny, some of the more memorable losses and wins that we’ve had, he’s just got the same face. The same personality. He’s as steady as they come. You need that, that’s a huge part of just getting through the grind and pressures of a major league season.
“He came to us with a tremendous reputation as being highly attentive to detail, having a really brilliant baseball mind, having seen a lot coming up through player development. Being an excellent communicator. And being a humble, great teammate. And that was apparent right away. We saw that from the very beginning.
“And those are wonderful qualities to have no matter what the role is. I think particularly in the manager role, those qualities really shine. And I think that’s what we’re excited about. Rob doesn’t have to change as a person, he doesn’t have to change as a leader, he’s been very much the leader of sorts within that coaches’ room already.”
Shortly after he met with the media on Friday afternoon, Thomson addressed the team. His message was succinct: that he is there for his players.
“I have their backs and I’m going to support them in every way,” Thomson said. “I’m going to communicate with them. I want to know what these guys feel — physically, mentally, emotionally — so we can properly prepare them and they can compete at the highest level and perform. The only way you get that feel is by communicating, talking, listening, spending time in the clubhouse.
“As a bench coach, you’re spending a whole lot of time preparing, and probably not so much time in the clubhouse. I’m still going to prepare, but I’m going to have the confidence in the coaches around me to keep me informed, so now I can go into the clubhouse and get to know the players. Know what they like, know what they don’t like. Know when they’re hurt, when they’re not hurt. So that they know that I’ve got their back and they can go out there and put their game on autopilot and relax and play.”