MIAMI - Before everyone made their way for home or a mini-vacation or even just a much-needed break from a stressful and borderline disastrous first half of the 2015 season, Pete Mackanin got his players together in the visiting clubhouse at AT & T Park in San Francisco and delivered a pre-All-Star break message to his players.
Mackanin, who had taken over the managing job on an interim basis only 2 1/2 weeks earlier, demanded to see a better effort from his last-place Phillies when they reconvened at the end of the week. To paraphrase Mackanin, he asked if his players were really as bad as their major league-worst record, or if they were a team that planned on fighting to prove they were better than the numbers in the 2 1/2 months that remained in the season.
"He kind of kicked us in the ass a little bit," veteran Jeff Francoeur said, recalling the mid-July team meeting yesterday afternoon in Miami.
The Phillies won nine of their first 10 games coming out of the All-Star break, and then 16 of 21. Two months later, they remain on a collision course with 100 losses. But the young, transitioning roster has played with a purpose despite its collective lack of experience and proven talent. The Phillies entered last night with a 27-32 record since the break.
Mackanin's message was heard loud and clear three months ago and it helped earn him some staying power in an organization that has had almost every level of its management in flux for the last 13 months.
Yesterday afternoon, the Phillies announced they were dropping Mackanin's interim tag and extending his contract through the 2016 season. Mackanin's new deal includes a team option for 2017, too.
"First of all, I'd like to thank Ruben (Amaro Jr., the former general manager) for putting me in the spot he put me in, that enabled this to happen," Mackanin said. "Second of all, one of the main reasons I was hired to continue is because they liked the way the players played for me, they played with energy. Although we're not getting a lot of wins, and we're not doing as well as we'd like to, the players have not laid down. They've played with a lot of enthusiasm. Because of them, I got this job."
As Francoeur said, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who wasn't happy about the news.
"I think everybody is pretty excited," closer Ken Giles said shortly after Mackanin's full-time hire was announced to the team before last night's game with the Marlins. "It's a positive thing. You want to keep the guys comfortable with what they have and especially with the way guys have played under him. My vote is bring him back, see what he can do for a full season. You never know."
Incoming team president Andy MacPhail and interim general manager Scott Proefrock, who have obviously kept tabs on the manager's work for three months, officially interviewed Mackanin on Saturday in Atlanta. MacPhail said they also interviewed first-base coach Juan Samuel, who had served as an interim manager under MacPhail in Baltimore.
"I think Pete, in my view, had a significant leg up in that I've seen the energy level move up since he's been (in the position)," MacPhail said. "I think it's our job as the front office to be pretty realistic about what it is that we have and we don't have. We just came off a series where we scored three runs, but really, half the lineup is hurt or has been traded. It's our job to try to make sure we're aware of the whole circumstance and evaluate those things that are truly important going forward. And that's about effort and energy and enthusiasm.
"You always want to be competitive, but at the same time this franchise finds itself in a position where a lot of young players are going to get opportunities, and we need to nurture them in such a way where they grow to be as good as they possibly can be. And we have to make sure we have the right people around them to achieve that goal."
Mackanin's hiring comes less than two weeks after MacPhail and company decided not to renew Amaro's contract. The Phillies obviously have not replaced their departed GM during that time, meaning Mackanin will have a new boss, who didn't hire him, at some point in the next month or so.
But MacPhail telegraphed this hiring at the Amaro press conference, saying he didn't want a lengthy GM search to be followed by a lengthy manager search. He reiterated that point yesterday, saying it was a "critical time" for the organization and that the other route could mean losing "half your offseason."
"There is a lot that a new general manager is going to have to acclimate himself to," MacPhail said, "and going through a managerial and coaching search after that would have been a waste of time when we think we have people here that can do a very good job."
The guaranteed one-year deal for Mackanin does, however, give the next GM some leeway after his first year on the job.
"Hopefully the guy will like me and want to extend me," Mackanin said.
Mackanin, 64, was named interim manager on June 26, a day that began with Ryne Sandberg abruptly quitting after less than two years on the job. He was first asked to get through a weekend on an interim status, and then a homestand, and then a season.
Now, for the first time in 47 years in baseball, after having worked as a player, coach, scout, minor league manager and interim major league manager - thrice - Mackanin has been named a full-time big-league manager. He is the 53rd manager in the 133-year history of the Phillies franchise.
Mackanin previously held interim-manager posts in Pittsburgh (2005) and Cincinnati (2007), but was passed over when the time came to hire full-time managers with both teams. He also has interviewed with the Cubs, Astros and Red Sox.
It was after he was turned down by Boston four years ago that Mackanin admits to giving up hope.
"You know, age is a factor," Mackanin said. "At some point, there was a trend to hiring younger guys, managers and general managers, (and) players who just got done playing. So you just kind of live with it and say, 'Maybe my days are gone.' But I still feel young. I think a little bit of experience can go a long way."
Mackanin's weekend interview and subsequent hiring were sandwiched between one of his stronger in-game moves since taking over the interim post three months ago. On Sunday, he benched rookie outfielder Odubel Herrera for what he labeled "pouting" after Herrera threw his bat and failed to run out a pop fly in Atlanta.
Mackanin was asked about the timing of the benching and his job announcement yesterday.
"It had nothing to do with that," he said. "I manage the only way I know how to manage. I sensed that Herrera was starting to mope around."
Mackanin said Herrera came into his office early yesterday afternoon and apologized. The two had a positive conversation.
"I appealed to his sense of professionalism and I think at his young age this is a time to do it," Mackanin said. "Whether I'm the interim or not. Whether I'm a coach or not. I think it's important for him to learn that, and hopefully it will carry with him the rest of his career."
Mackanin's communication skills have been lauded since Day 1 as interim manager and were present in his years as a coach on the staff, first during the 2009 pennant-winning season. It was a skill that his predecessor, Sandberg, lacked while dealing with the difficult situation of managing both unhappy veterans and unproven rookies as the Phillies fell from a perennial playoff team to cellar dweller.
Mackanin, it would seem, meshes well with the new-look roster.
"He's able to speak our language," Giles said of Mackanin, who is known for being equal parts laid-back and sarcastic in the clubhouse. "He knows how to speak to us. We have so many personalities. To be able to speak to one guy a certain way, but you can't speak that way to another guy that might not understand or take it the wrong way. But he's able to adapt to all of these different personalities that we have."
Whether Mackanin has long-term success as the Phillies' manager might depend on whether he can have the same rapport with his still-to-be determined boss.
If the Phillies hire a stat-crunching, analytics-driven GM in the next four to six weeks, and that person has strong ideas for the way Mackanin goes about his day-to-day work, how will that work for the manager?
"I'm who I am and I've always gotten along with people," Mackanin said. "To me, the relationship with the GM and the manager is this. The GM provides the players with input from the manager. The manager runs the game with input from the GM. You can't overdo one or the other. That being the case, I know for a fact they're not going to throw a lineup on my desk and make me use that lineup."
MacPhail, the man hiring the general manager, assured Mackanin of as much.
"I'm not anticipating any difficulties," MacPhail said. "If there are issues that come up, then we'll have to come in and (settle) them, but I'd rather have a GM come in knowing where he is, being comfortable with that. If someone wants to exclude themselves from the process because the manager has been chosen, then so be it. I would find that very difficult to believe that would happen."
Both MacPhail and Mackanin said the composition of the remainder of the 2016 coaching staff won't be determined until after the season.