CLEARWATER, Fla. - Patience is what the Phillies asked of everyone when they finally decided that all the meat was gone from the bone that had allowed the club to contend for playoff slots for nearly a decade.
This, they admitted, was not going to be easy or pretty and it would be completed later rather than sooner. In the middle of what was supposed to be his second full season as the team's manager, Ryne Sandberg decided he had seen and heard enough.
Somebody had to replace Sandberg and it had to be someone willing to sit through a lot of youthful mistakes and the avalanche of losses that would go along with them.
Pete Mackanin accepted the job and has been a positive clubhouse presence ever since, which is the primary reason he deserves to keep managing this team when it gets good again.
This comes up now because Mackanin is in the second season of a two-year deal he signed before the start of last season. The contract included a 2018 option, and the Phillies, at the very least, should guarantee the manager next season before this one begins.
Mackanin did not want to talk about his contract situation late last month and not because he's upset about it. He figures that's a subject that is best kept private. He was willing, however, to describe what he thought the Phillies wanted from him when he took over from Sandberg in late June 2015.
"I inherited a team of young players, so I understood the importance of keeping them positive and pointed in the right direction," Mackanin said. "It was my job to make them feel comfortable and to motivate them."
If you think that's an easy task, you obviously know nothing about the Phillies' history. Eddie Sawyer, manager of the 1950 Whiz Kids, who won the National League pennant, was considered as positive as they come. But one game into the 1960 season, after finishing last the year before, Sawyer shocked everyone by resigning.
"I'm 49 years old and I want to live to be 50," Sawyer said.
The Phillies lost 95 games and finished last again that season. Sawyer did not die until 1997 at the age of 87.
Nick Leyva was the youngest manager in baseball when general manager Lee Thomas hired him in 1989 with a mandate to stay positive through some difficult rebuilding years. By the start of his third season, he had cracked and Thomas fired him after just 13 games. Even Terry Francona, one of the most upbeat human beings you'll ever encounter, was low on energy by the time his four losing seasons as Phillies manager ended in 2000.
Mackanin, at 65, has been around too long to be rattled by a bad day at the office or a bad apple in the clubhouse. He has managed in the minors and majors and in winter ball in five countries. He should have been a big-league manager a long time ago, but by no means is he ready for senior discounts at the local diner. He's fit and full of energy, ready to take the Phillies back to the place they were when he joined the franchise as one of manager Charlie Manuel's coaches in 2009.
"I only know one way to manage, and that's to take the team you have and manage them the best way they can succeed," he said. "If I have a bunch of power hitters, I'm going to let them swing for the fences. If I've got speed, we're going to run. Basically I manage a team according to what type of players I have, whether they're veterans, rookies, or a mix of both."
Far more important than managerial strategy is the ability to get the most out of players, and Mackanin succeeded in that pursuit a year ago.
"I've managed a lot of games, not only here, but in Latin America, and I know one thing: Being positive is the best way to approach anything," Mackanin said. "I think the fact that I'm getting an opportunity to manage in my 60s, it has allowed me to understand that you are really at the mercy of your players, and the best way to win games is to keep them positive."
That's a lesson that came with age and some wise advice from his wife, Nancy, whom he met in Montreal when he was playing with the Expos in the mid-'70s.
"When I was young, I'd go home ticked off," Mackanin said. "One year I was in Venezuela and we were on the verge of making the finals [of the Caribbean Series] and I walked into our hotel suite and I was beside myself. I was going off, and my wife says, 'What are you going to do, have a heart attack? You're going to have a . . . heart attack. You have to rely on the players.' "
Mackanin's team from Venezuela won the Caribbean Series.
"From that point on, it stuck with me," he said. "I'm not having a heart attack. I don't have to like being patient, but I am anyway."
Now is the time for the Phillies to reward that patience by picking up Mackanin's option for 2018. He has earned the right to stick around for a while.