PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies introduced Gabe Kapler as the 54th manager in team history Thursday afternoon.
It’s probably fair to say none of the previous 53 was exactly like Kapler.
The new manager lived up to his advanced billing during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park.
His famed intensity radiated off the podium.
“We’re going to make razor sharp turns around the bases,” Kapler said. “When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins.”
He referred to reporters as “brother.”
He said the Phillies were going to play like Chase Utley.
And Kapler invoked Utley’s infamous quote at the 2008 World Series parade.
“We’re going to think traditionally and progressively,” Kapler said. “All of this is in an effort to bring that effing trophy back to (Phillies owner) John Middleton. Ultimately, that’s why we’re doing everything we do because we care deeply about winning.”
The Phillies are taking a risk on the 42-year-old Kapler in part because he has no major league managing or coaching experience. Kapler did have a 12-year big-league career, and he spent the last two years as the Los Angeles Dodgers director of player development. Kapler’s only managerial experience came in 2007, when he ran the Boston Red Sox single-A affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina, during a brief retirement. The Drive went 58-81.
Nevertheless, Kapler was the Phillies’ choice.
“We considered candidates with a wide spectrum of backgrounds,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “We went into this with a very open mind. At the end of the day what we concluded is that the total package that (Kapler) brings to the table is the right fit for this organization at this time. He doesn’t have experience on the bench, but they’re things we can do to help support him in that area.”
Kapler took off his suit jacket and slipped on a Phillies jersey with the No. 22 on his back Thursday. He then put on a Phillies cap. It seemed like he would never take either off.
“This is incredibly exciting,” he said. “This feels really good. I feel more comfortable in a baseball uniform than I ever did in a collared shirt.”
Kapler is strong believer in analytics and being a member of the Dodgers’ front office he probably has a good understanding of how today’s front offices want to work hand-in-hand with the manager on the day-to-day team operations. The Dodgers developed shortstop Corey Seager, the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, and Cody Bellinger, this year’s likely NL Rookie of the Year, under Kapler.
“One of the things that I think I’m especially capable of is building environments for the players to be the strongest versions of themselves,” Kapler said, “and one of the things that we’ve talked about is that we don’t actually build the baseball players, we build the environments for the baseball players to flourish and develop.”
Kapler does not arrive without some questions.
His blog — kaplifestyle.com — advocates progressive thoughts on health and nutrition and occasionally touches on some risqué topics.
“Much of what I have written is several years old,” Kapler said. “When I was writing, I was in a different mindset now than I am as a manager of the Phillies. Even with that said there’s some tongue-in-cheek stuff. Thinking through it there’s some things I might have written differently.”
Klentak said the Phillies went through Kapler’s blog.
“If you look at any great leaders, they’re going to both have succeeded and failed in their lives,” Klentak said. “I think to really achieve and really excel, you have to be willing to take risks. I think (Kapler) has been more vocal about it. His thoughts are part of the public record more than they are for some. But I think that’s something we embrace. I don’t think it’s something to shy away from.”
Kapler replaces Pete Mackanin, who was removed as manager but given another role in the Phillies’ organization after going 174-238 (.422) in two-plus seasons.
Kapler takes over a team with a core of young positions players, most notably first baseman Rhys Hoskins, outfielder Nick Williams and shortstop J.P. Crawford.
“I don’t know what there isn’t to be excited about,” Kapler said when asked about the Phillies roster. “Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Do we have holes to fill? Of course. But is there a ton to get fired up about. That’s why Matt and I are sitting together right now, and we’ll be smiling a lot.”
The Phillies have been known as a traditional organization that was somewhat behind the times. Kapler’s hiring and his Thursday news conference put the organization in a new, more progressive light.
But while Kapler may be unlike any of the 53 Phillies managers who came before him, he’ll be judged the same way.
Wins and losses.