November 03, 2017
First impressions: Gabe Kapler is an excitable guy.
He comes off like a college football coach, really. He’s energetic and intense, he chooses his words thoughtfully and methodically, he speaks with a passion about his philosophies and sounds like a man always on a recruiting pitch.
It was a style that probably worked well in the last three years when he was dealing with mostly college football-aged kids as the Dodgers director of player development.
“What you see, is absolutely what you get and what I’ve been thinking about,” he said off the podium after his introductory press conference ended on Thursday. “What you’re seeing in front of you is authentically me, and sometimes to a fault.”
It should be pointed out, then, that the baseball season isn’t 12 or 13 games long, but is instead a 162-game grind. And that, during that grind, a young Phillies team that’s averaged 95 losses in the last three years and doesn’t currently have much proven starting pitching beyond Aaron Nola could go through some trying times in 2018, and those could test a tightly-wound guy like Kapler’s defining characteristics.
He looked, at least on the surface as he sat at the dais with general manager Matt Klentak on Thursday, like the kind of
coach manager who could remind folks of Larry Bowa in San Diego.
But maybe it was unfair to judge on first impressions.
“I think intensity does not mean impatience,” Kapler said. “Intensity means attention to detail. Intensity means doing two things to me: supporting players and raising the bar for them simultaneously. One thing without the other doesn't work. You can’t raise the bar for a player if you’re not supporting them and they’re not going to respond to anything if you’re not there for them when they need you. Applying intensity to that formula? Sure. But one of the things, if you do homework on me, is that I don’t get bent out of shape easily. I have a lot of patience.”
Fair enough. And we did do the homework and even referenced his stance on handling anger earlier this week.
On the podium, after saying it was “incredibly exciting” as he put on the red pinstripes for the first time for the press conference’s best photo opp, it took Kapler less than two minutes to incorporate Philadelphia sports idol Chase Utley into his opening comments.
Second impression: Gabe Kapler knows how to cater to his audience.
Kapler mentions Howard & Rollins next, but makes special notice to talk about Utley and says the Phillies will play and prepare like him. pic.twitter.com/8Gkth240iC— NBC Sports Philly (@NBCSPhilly) November 2, 2017
“I think about this franchise and I can’t help but think of the history of excellence and the history of winning,” he said.
FACT CHECK: The Phillies actually have a history of losing, not winning. They were the first American professional sports franchise to reach 10,000 all-time losses 10 years ago and were downright dreadful from the end of War World I up until a few years after War World II (honestly, check out their records from 1919 to 1948). And even since Mike Schmidt last played in a World Series game (in 1983) there was only one playoff season (’93) before the most recent golden era began (2007).
But we digress. Back to the excitable new manager.
“It makes me think about some of the people that I watched growing up,” Kapler said of his view of Phillies history. “Mike Schmidt comes to mind. So does Larry Bowa. Ferocious style of play. And without question, thinking through to Charlie Manuel and his contributions to this city. I’m very proud to even be mentioned to be a contributor like those guys were.
“I think about the guys who followed them - guys I played against. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. I was lucky enough to get to know Chase in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse. It was unbelievable how much intent and how much intensity he prepared for the game with. And during the game, how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.
“We’re going to play with the same level of intent and intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. 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 so that we thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We’re going to mold those two things together.”
And then – wait for it – he played directly to his immediate, captive audience in attendance. There were plenty of Phillies employees at Thursday’s presser, including front office officials standing in the back, but right in the front row, mixed in with the media, were team president Andy MacPhail and owner John Middleton.
“This is in an effort,” Kapler said, “to bring that F-ing trophy back to John Middleton.”
"We are ultra competitive."— NBC Sports Philly (@NBCSPhilly) November 2, 2017
The goal is to "bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton." - Gabe Kapler pic.twitter.com/4VCas5QmAF
Kudos to Kap for doing some research. Dropping an f-bomb (of sorts) in front of a captive Phillies audience has proved in the past to be a winner and, secondly, he was able to reference what’s perhaps the most defining moment of Middleton’s stay as a part of the team’s ownership, referencing the words the owner voiced to Ryan Howard after the Yankees defeated the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series eight years ago.
What else did Kapler have to say, with a few days to prepare, on his first day in the spotlight as Phillies manager? Quite a bit. Let’s find some more highlights:
On his personality:
“My personality is multi-faceted like every human being in this room. I'll say I'm engaging. I'm warm. There's no question about it: I'm intense and I'm passionate. And I think that more than anything else I am who I am and I'm authentic. Players today follow authenticity more than anything else, any other characteristic.”
On his desire to be a manager after working in the front office with the Dodgers in the last three years (Notable: he finished runner-up to Dave Roberts for their managing job two years ago):
“I’m ultra-competitive. I love to win. This is a place where I can lead from the dugout. And certainly one of the things I’m especially capable of is building environments for players to be the strongest versions of themselves. One of the things that we’ve talked about is we don’t actually build the baseball players, we build the environments for the baseball players to flourish and develop. And if we build a really healthy environment for them to come to the ballpark in every single day, they’re going to be the strongest versions of themselves and then we’re going to carry that strength out on the field and perform. I guess to wrap this up, the reason I want to be a major league manager is to build that winning environment.”
On what he likes about the Phillies roster/farm system:
“What’s most attractive and exciting is that we have core position players, I’m not going to name some names, but all around the diamond, we have some really already successful young pitching. We have some bullpen pieces that in looking into them I got really excited about. And it wasn’t just about performance. It was about pitch characteristics. I put myself in the batter’s box and thought about facing Luis Garcia and how difficult that was going to be. And it just got me fired up. … I looked through all the prospects in our Minor League system. The guys that we have coming? Extremely, extremely talented. This scouting department has done a tremendous job the last couple years. These guys are almost ready. Joe Jordan has done a tremendous job in player development preparing these guys to make the move to the big league level. So I don’t know what there isn’t to be excited about. 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 here right now and we’ll be smiling a lot.
On how he hopes to put together a coaching staff:
“Quite simply and directly, I believe in building diversity. One of the things that I don't think, and I have a feeling I'll get support from Matt here, is 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 someone who thinks more progressively, a guy that has been out at first base and has picked out tells on a pitcher his whole life can teach me so much and I want to be able to drink that up. So I'd say diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff.”
On when he was introduced to analytics:
“I played for the Red Sox for a long period of time and I remember Ben Cherington, who was with the Boston Red Sox at the time, gave me a table. It was a run expectancy table. It was really interesting to me. I dug into it and it made me sort of become insatiable about acquiring more information like it. The run expectancy table is important.”
On how the incorporation of analytics into the game in the last 15 years:
“There’s a tremendous amount of information out there now that wasn’t around there at that time. If you think about various ways we can acquire that information, whether it be through public facing information or what we have internally - Diamond Kinetics is a way we track our bat path, Trackman tracks the spin on the baseball and the efficiency of the spin on the baseball, shoot there are some advanced metrics that I find especially fascinating to evaluate our players but again one of the things that I wanted to stress is everyone is that’s not the only way. I’m not an analytics guy alone. I try to use every bit of information at my fingertips. We’d be foolish not to take all that information and put it together to help us make the most informed decisions. I’ve just always been fascinated naturally by it.”
On the challenge of getting a big league clubhouse to buy into thinking progressively or differently:
It’s one challenge among many. I’ll say you get the players to buy in, is to come on their turf. I think historically in a major league baseball clubhouse we’ve looked at in the opposite fashion, which is these guys don’t know how to do it anymore. So, we’re going to go stand over in the corner until they come over to us. Well, they don’t respond to that. So the way you get them to buy in is to relentlessly care about them, and one of the ways to do that is to come on their home turf. And their home turf might be texting. That might make people uncomfortable but it doesn’t matter. Because we *have* to connect with them. And if we’re going to sell them ideas, we have to talk to them in their language. And be willing to use their language even if it makes them feel uncomfortable. So if that’s text, if it’s Twitter, if it’s other ways to get to them, if it’s a one-on-one conversation. And once we have their ear and their attention, and they’re caring about us and we’re caring about them, that’s when we can sharpen. That’s when we can turn the dial up. That when we can ask for more intensity. So the way we connect with them, the way we get them to buy in, is to come on their home turf.
On making sure the transition within the clubhouse isn’t jarring:
“The first thing I learned is that it’s not one-size-fits-all. Terry Francona had a very laid back, gregarious style. One of the things that's really cool about Terry: I was on one end of the bench and he was on the other end of the bench (one game). After struggling mightily at the plate, I looked down at him and he just looked over to me and give me a little wink. He was able to put me at ease. Johnny Oates in Texas was really big about putting his arm around your shoulder. That was an effective technique. Clint Hurdle had a much stronger, bolder, larger-than-life personality. Obviously, that's been an effective technique in Pittsburgh. Joe Maddon is a little bit different in managing a clubhouse. Believes in not having rules. All of these things have shaped me as a baseball man. I would apply the lessons that I learned in all of their dugouts and all of their clubhouses to my own personal managerial style.”
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