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For Pete Mackanin, long journey to become Phillies manager worth every move

Nearly four decades ago, when their two-person traveling party welcomed a third member, Pete Mackanin's wife, Nancy, began keeping a journal. As Mackanin bounced from one baseball job to the next, his family moving from one town to the next, Nancy recorded all of their son's firsts and noted where they were in their lives at every given point.

Pete Mackanin said he "wouldn't change a thing" about his long, winding journey to his first major-league managerial job.
Pete Mackanin said he "wouldn't change a thing" about his long, winding journey to his first major-league managerial job.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff

Nearly four decades ago, when their two-person traveling party welcomed a third member, Pete Mackanin's wife, Nancy, began keeping a journal. As Mackanin bounced from one baseball job to the next, his family moving from one town to the next, Nancy recorded all of their son's firsts and noted where they were in their lives at every given point.

The journal is how Nancy knows the precise number of times she has packed up and moved with her husband: 57, or enough for about 10 lifetimes. The Mackanins' now-37-year-old son, Shane, attended 12 schools before ninth grade. One year, he started in Montreal and ended in Arizona with a three-month stop in Venezuela in between.

"We couldn't settle down," said Pete Mackanin, who will attend his first baseball winter meetings as a major-league manager this week in Nashville. "It was almost laughable."

Borderline absurd is one way to put it. A model of persistence is another. As the new Phillies skipper reminisced about his career path during a November afternoon at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home, he insisted he "wouldn't change a thing." Sixty-four years old, with a full head of silver-gray hair that makes him look more senatorial than managerial, Mackanin now finds it easier to look back fondly on each and every stop of his nomadic journey.

Next year will be his 48th in baseball, his 32d since he retired from playing. His past titles include minor-league manager, minor-league field coordinator, major-league coach, scout, and three times an interim big-league manager. Within the last couple of years, he believed that the chance to run his own major-league clubhouse on a more permanent basis had passed him by.

Mackanin's first two stints as an interim manager, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005 and the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, saw him lose his job at season's end. The third time proved to be a charm: He was give the Phillies job permanently in September after taking over on an interim basis in June.

For a few years not so long ago, he was a popular managerial candidate, interviewing, to no avail, with the Houston Astros in 2009, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox in 2011, and the Colorado Rockies in 2012.

If Joe Girardi had left New York to manage the Cubs in 2013, the Yankees planned to consider Mackanin, at the time a valued member of their scouting staff, as his replacement. But Girardi stayed in the Bronx, and Mackanin began his second stint on the Phillies staff, as Ryne Sandberg's third-base coach.

"He should have been a manager prior somewhere," said Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager. "I was like, 'Man, this guy is really good.' I'm glad that the Phillies have a chance to see that."

Mementos from a life in baseball are displayed in the seldom-visited den of Mackanin's offseason home, a modest ranch that overlooks the McDowell Mountains just northeast of Phoenix.

Two dozen baseball caps, of varying colors and levels of wear, hang above the entryway. Teams represented range from the Wytheville (Va.) Senators, Mackanin's first professional team in 1969, to Cangrejeros de Santurce, a team in Puerto Rico that he managed one winter in the late '90s.

Baseball has taken Mackanin, raised on Chicago's South Side, all over the world. Fourteen offseasons were spent in winter ball, managing in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even Australia, each an effort to bolster his resumé. In both of his years on their scouting staff, the Yankees sent Mackanin on special assignment to Japan, in 2008 to evaluate a group of targets headlined by Yu Darvish and in 2013 for Masahiro Tanaka.

"I consider myself a pretty good packer," joked Nancy, a Quebec native who met her husband in 1975, his first of three seasons playing for the Expos.

Before he became a journeyman manager, coach, and scout, Mackanin was a journeyman infielder. He logged 1,660 games over 16 years in the minor and major leagues, a total of 548 with the Texas Rangers, Expos, Phillies, and Minnesota Twins. The ball from his first big-league hit, a single off Stan Bahnsen of his hometown Chicago White Sox, rests in his home on one of three bookcases lined with autographed baseballs.

Pick a prominent figure in the sport over the last five decades, and Mackanin probably crossed paths with him in some form or fashion. As a player, his first major-league manager was Whitey Herzog. He also played for Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Dick Williams, and Gene Mauch.

Mauch, the late former Phillies manager, is the one whom he most often finds himself drawing from when leading a team. Mackanin admired how Mauch presented himself to players in a way that commanded their respect but also ensured they knew he had their backs.

Mackanin's own managerial career dates to 1985, the year after Gordon Goldsberry, the late Chicago Cubs director of player development and scouting, persuaded him to play one final year for the triple-A Iowa Cubs and then begin his second baseball venture. He was handed the reins of the single-A Peoria Chiefs. Greg Maddux was his first opening-day starter. Rafael Palmeiro joined the team over the summer as the new first-round draft pick.

The hundreds of players Mackanin has encountered in the three decades since occasionally has rendered it difficult for him to remember the root of all his relationships. When he runs into a former player he knows - which will happen often from Monday to Thursday at baseball's annual convention - it might take him a moment to recall whether he played with him or against him, managed him, coached him, or scouted him.

Or, in at least one case, had his uniform washed by him. Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, formerly the Los Angeles Angels GM and years before that a longtime major-league relief pitcher, was the visiting clubhouse attendant for the triple-A Richmond Braves when Mackanin managed the Iowa Cubs in the late '80s.

"I guess the true relationship between Pete and I," Dipoto said, "is Pete was the dude, and I shined his shoes."

The first-year Phillies manager is well-known for his dry sense of humor - "I don't think anyone has one quite like Pete," said former Phillies coach Sam Perlozzo, a friend of Mackanin's since their time together on Charlie Manuel's staff. But many who know Mackanin best also describe a levelheadedness that has helped him through the humbling moments of his career.

Such as following up four years as the Expos' third-base coach by managing the single-A Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League, just to continue working in the game.

"I never saw my dad down or upset or frustrated with himself," said Mackanin's son, Shane. "He just always kept on plugging along knowing that something good would happen some day and counted his blessings for what he did have rather than looking at what he didn't have."

Mackanin twice dealt with the disappointment that came with being passed over for a permanent major-league managerial job after being named an interim skipper.

His interim stint in Pittsburgh spanned only 26 games to end the year - the then-lowly Pirates won 12 of them - before Jim Tracy was tabbed as the team's new leader a week after the season's end.

With Cincinnati, he took a team that was 31-51 when Jerry Narron was fired and led it to a 41-39 record. The Reds replaced him with Dusty Baker after the season, though, and Mackanin again "put that warrior face back on and plugged along and hoped that something good would come of it," Shane said.

It wasn't until no one expected it that Mackanin was afforded his chance. Sandberg abruptly quit 74 games into a miserable Phillies rebuilding season this year. A young and inexperienced team, playing with renewed energy under Mackanin, finished three games under .500 in the second half, a minor miracle considering the roster and the team's major-league-worst 63-99 record for the season.

New Phillies president Andy MacPhail lifted Mackanin's "interim" label in September, signing him to a one-year contract with a club option for 2017. MacPhail had yet to hire general manager Matt Klentak, thus the short-term commitment.

Mackanin insists he is comfortable with his contract situation, unique in the major-league managerial ranks.

"At this point in my career, I'm pretty OK with everything," he said. "I feel fine about that. I get it. I understand."

But he also hopes to complete 50 years working in baseball, which would mean three more in some capacity. "At least," he said, grinning.

But whether it lasts just one year, two, or even three or more, Mackanin will always be able to stake his claim to the title of major-league manager, no "interim" tag needed. He has had more than enough years to plan.

Perhaps that's why the yellow legal pad atop his coffee table has so many pages ripped from it, the sheet on top marked to the margins. While Mackanin should probably be out golfing and enjoying his offseason, his wife of 39 years often catches him plopped on the couch, pen in hand, already scheduling drills down to the minute for his first spring training at the helm.

"That's OK, though," she said. "It doesn't bother me."