PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies admitted Tuesday morning there’s a problem.
Their solution stunned the baseball world, thrilled fans and raised even more questions.
Philadelphia named former manager Charlie Manuel, one of the most beloved figures in franchise history, its new hitting coach.
Manuel replaced John Mallee, who had been criticized all season. Philadelphia (60-58) began Tuesday in wild-card contention but in fourth place in the NL East. Manuel was traveling to Philadelphia on Tuesday and is expected to be at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.
“I know a lot of people are burying us and saying we have no chance and haven’t played well,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “But we are not buried, and we are not out. With 44 games remaining, it makes sense for us to try something different rather than continuing to do the same things we’ve been doing.”
Manuel, 75, has been a senior adviser to Klentak. He has been a constant presence around Citizens Bank the past few weeks. Manuel loves to talk hitting. He refers to steamy summer days as “hittin’ weather.”
“Charlie isn’t going to come and magically change things,” Klentak said. “What I do think Charlie can do is bring an energy level, a love and a passion for hitting, a looseness and confidence and a different message to our hitters.”
Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler met the media together at a news conference before the Phillies hosted the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.
They presented a united front. But the move raised plenty of eyebrows. Klentak and Kapler had vigorously defended Mallee and the rest of the coaches all season. Klentak said no other coaching changes are planned.
“John Mallee was really appreciated by our players, really appreciated by me personally,” Kapler said. “This is much more about the fact that we were just struggling mightily to score runs.”
Another prominent question: What role did Phillies owner John Middleton play in the move.
“Any time we make a big organizational decision, we’re very collaborative about that,” Klentak said. “So John definitely was aware of this, involved in this, as he has been for a lot of decisions we’ve made.”
The Phillies’ offense has floundered despite the high-profile offseason additions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura.
Philadelphia began Tuesday ranked ninth in runs scored (557), 10th in on-base percentage (.322), 12th in slugging percentage (.417) and 11th in home runs (149) in the 15-team National League.
“Results matter,” Klentak said.
Manuel, who managed the Phillies from 2005-13, has gotten results. He led the Phillies to five straight NL East titles from 2007-11 and the 2008 World Series championship. With 780 career victories, he is the winningest manager in Phillies history.
For better or for worse, Manuel now looms over Kapler’s shoulder. If the Phillies go on an offensive hot streak, Manuel is bound to get the credit.
Klentak stressed Manuel’s return to the dugout is a short-term solution.
“Charlie is going to work for us (as hitting coach) for another seven weeks, and hopefully into October,” he said. “This is not a role that is likely to extend beyond 2019.”
Meanwhile, Kapler predictably said he’s happy to have Manuel around.
“The first thing that comes to mind for me is it’s always going to be nice to have somebody who has had success in this market,” Kapler said. “Charlie’s a great resource. I look forward to having the opportunity to pick his brain.”
Manuel made his baseball name as a hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1990s. Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Thome credits Manuel for much of his success.
“Charlie Manuel as a hitting coach in the 1990s was preaching a lot of the things that have now been labeled as exit velocity and launch angle and have some new titles,” Klentak said. “I understand that there’s kind of a simplistic viewpoint here that we are shifting from new school to old school, but it’s really not that simple.”
In July 2010, Manuel as manager fired hitting coach Milt Thompson and replaced him with Greg Gross.
The Phillies were six games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves at the time. Philadelphia rallied to win the division.
“I realized we have to do something,” Manuel said at the time.
Klentak basically said the same thing Tuesday. Only time will tell what impact this move has. Now, it’s up to the players.
“At the end of the day, we’re the guys standing in the box, and we’re the guys standing on the field,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “I still firmly believe that we’re poised and going to go on a run. It’s taken longer than any of us would hope for, but I still think it’s in us.”
If the Phillies don’t go on a run and don’t make the playoffs, it will be interesting to see who loses their job next.