PHILADELPHIA – Phillies principal owner John Middleton doesn’t like losing.
“I hate it,” he said. “I’m embarrassed by it. I don’t like looking bad at anything I do.”
The Phillies have had five straight losing seasons and lost an average of 92.8 games per year during that stretch.
All that losing has not been easy on Middleton. He has relied on his experiences as a wrestler at Amherst College in the mid-1970s to get through it. Middleton spoke with the media after the Phillies introduced Gabe Kapler as the team’s new manager Thursday.
“There were times I said, ‘We have to do something about this,’” Middleton said. “There were other times when things go better and I can kind of say, ‘I can see the light of the tunnel a little bit.’ There’s something good about wrestling because we’re very disciplined people in general. You can suck it up and tough it out. You have to do that.”
Middleton also got gotten words of encouragement from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros lost at least 100 games from 2011-2013 before winning the World Series this season.
“He said, ‘John, you’re not that bad,’” Middleton said.
Even with the new manager, Middleton sounded Thursday as if he was going to stay committed to the rebuilding plan and not alter the course with massive free-agent moves.
It took Middleton just one look to connect with Kapler.
“I’m a reasonably intense guy, I’ve been told,” Middleton said. “I think we connected literally on a visceral level. When we started talking about what people should be doing in the offseason and how they should be thinking about their goals for the offseason, he kind of won me over.”
No. 22 for a reason
Kapler will wear No. 22 for his youngest son, Dane, who turned 16 Friday. Dane plays running back for Malibu High School in California.
“My younger son is No. 22,” Kapler said. “We call him ‘Deuce-Deuce,’ and I’ve never had an opportunity to wear a number in honor of my son, and that’s why I chose it.”
Kapler’s older son, Chase, 19, is the Malibu quarterback.
“The coolest thing ever for a father is to watch your son take a snap from under center and hand it off to your other son,” Kapler said. “It’s a special moment.”
Kapler handled a couple of controversial topics head-on Thursday.
One was his lifestyle blog, which occasionally touched on a risqué subject.
The other was his relationship with Nick Francona, while both worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Francona, an Afghanistan war veteran, worked as the Dodgers’ assistant director of player development while Kapler was director of player development.
The Dodgers terminated Francona’s contract in 2016. Francona accused the Dodgers and Kapler of discrimination against him for his military service after he visited the Home Base Program in Massachusetts, which helps veterans with symptoms related to brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Francona is the son of Cleveland Indians manager and former Phillies manager Terry Francona. Nick Francona now works in player development for the New York Mets. Kapler played for Terry Francona in Boston.
“Per Major League Baseball, it’s not something we can address specifically,” Kapler said. “I will say this: I’ve known the Francona family for a long time and have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them. Particularly Tito (Terry’s nickname) Francona, who was my manager for several years in Boston. And I still hold in the highest regard and think of him as a mentor.”
The Phillies investigated the matter. Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak and Nick Francona worked together with the Los Angeles Angels.
“I have a ton of respect for Nick Francona as a person, as a colleague, as a military veteran,” Klentak said. “I think the important thing is that we don’t have to choose sides in this, and I think we can be extremely excited and confident in the future of the Phillies and Gabe Kapler’s presence on our staff while at the same time fully respecting and supporting Nick Francona who is a great kid, and I think that’s an important message.”
With his hiring done, Kapler and the Phillies front office will begin the searches for a coaching staff.
Neither Kapler nor Klentak gave any specific names Thursday. Kapler did talk about what kind of coaches he wants.
“Quite simply, I believe in building diversity,” he said. “I don’t want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience. I have a tremendous amount of value for somebody who thinks more progressively.”
The Phillies did add two baseball operations positions Friday, naming former outfielder Sam Fuld as major league player information coordinator and Ben Werthan as minor league player information coordinator.
Fuld, 25, played parts of eight seasons with the Chicago Cubs (2007; 2009-10), Tampa Bay Rays (2011-13), Oakland A’s (2014; 2015) and Minnesota Twins (2014). He also has a degree in economics from Stanford.
Werthan, 31, spent the past six years as the advance scouting coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles.