Mackanin is write man for the job
Third-base coach adds class to Phillies' lineup cards
RYNE SANDBERG has the difficult job. He has to decide what players are going to be included and left out of his lineup every night. When the skipper makes his decision, he hands over the results to be printed on a lineup card.
Unlike other major league teams, the Phillies do not just type the names in a computer and print it out for circulation. They turn the pen over to Pete Mackanin, their third-base coach who has a unique handwriting talent.
Mackanin has a beautiful, eloquent, calligraphy-style writing that he brings to the lineup card every game of the season. His lineup cards are well known and popular on Twitter, as the Phillies beat writers tweet the finished product. It is something he has been doing for years, even before he got to the Phillies.
"I was the bench coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003 through 2005," Mackanin said. "That's when I started doing it. I always liked to see a neat lineup card. With no other good reason other than it was fun to write the lineup card, I started doing that. I got my calligraphy pens and figured the neater the better."
The roots of his writing are deep-seated in his education. He graduated from Brother Rice High School in Chicago, where he learned the importance of neat handwriting, or paid the price.
"I grew up in Catholic schools my whole life," Mackanin said. "Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school. Your writing had to be neat or otherwise the nuns would slap you on the hand with a ruler. It was required to be neat, so I just stayed with it."
Regardless if it was a fear of nuns or a passion for neat writing, he has certainly stayed with it, and even improved upon his work. He is not a stranger to the Phillies organization, playing here in 1978 and 1979. He had a 9-year major league career before he turned to coaching. He spent 2 years as a major league manager, in 2005 with Pittsburgh and in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds, but a bulk of his work has been being a base or bench coach.
In his journey through the baseball world, many things have changed. The art of a handwritten lineup card is almost lost with the adaptation of technology. He has adapted to new writing equipment, but kept the tradition of handwritten lineup cards the same.
"Throughout my career in the minor leagues I would use a felt-tip marker and then for some reason I thought I would snazz it up a little bit. It is kind of fun," Mackanin said.
Mackanin changes colors and styles of his writing a lot during the season. By design, not one lineup card is exactly the same as another. It may seem random, but nothing is really random in the insanely superstitious game that is baseball.
"There is always superstitions all over the place in this business," Mackanin said. "I change it up a little bit every day. I'll use a different color pen if we need to win a game, or if we are losing with a certain color. In the playoffs I will rotate colors.
"I want to use a color that we could maybe get a winning streak going," Mackanin added. "We are going to try red. If we win today, it will be red tomorrow. If and when we lose another game, I will go back to my typical black. I might use block letters, I have done that before, instead of the calligraphy just to change it up."
Whether it is calligraphy or block letters, red or black, there is no denying that the lineup card is aesthetically pleasing. There are no blemishes on the card until the game starts and the managers start making changes. According to Mackanin, it makes it easier for them to make in-game decisions.
"When you are in the dugout and you are looking at the card, the neater the better, the easier it is to read, the easier it is for you to make decisions," Mackanin said. "You try to be as neat as you can. When you get extra-inning games and you are crossing things off during the game, when you are marking things, I don't worry about being neat. It was something that I like to do."
Even though Sandberg said candidly that Mackanin's lineup cards are the "best in the league," Mackanin has other ideas. He has another person in the majors he looks up to, calligraphy-wise at least.
"If you ever get a chance to see Jerry Narron, who is the bench coach for the Brewers, he is the king of calligraphy," Mackanin said. "He took a course in it. I think he has a pen, I'm not sure if he dips it in ink or anything. When I saw his card, I felt bad because I thought my card looked good, but his is unbelievable."
Like clockwork, a beautifully drawn lineup card will appear on the Internet for a few hours before a Phillies game. While it is one of his duties of his job now, it has transformed into one of Mackanin's more enjoyable hobbies.
"Sometimes I get a cup of coffee and I sit there and I have my fun writing up the lineup card," Mackanin said.
While the main part of his job is waving various Phillies around third base, beckoning them to score, Mackanin takes a lot of pride in the caffeine-driven work he does on the lineup card. His handiwork is seen by a plethora of Phillies fans each day, whether they realize it or not.