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September 10, 2015

Amaro’s firing was MacPhail’s call all the way

Even though Andy MacPhail is still technically only president-elect of the Phillies until Pat Gillick decides to hand over the reins, he was called into action for an important presidential decision (maybe the most important decision) before he officially got the job.

Due to the 78-year-old Gillick’s outgoing status and long relationship with Amaro, it was clear who needed to make this call. And because Amaro’s contract expires at the end of the season, the Phillies reasonably had to reach a decision while Gillick is technically still president. So there MacPhail was on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, explaining that he felt the baseball operations department needed a fresh perspective.

“On this particular decision, it was made clear to me that I was going to have a great deal of influence,” MacPhail said. “Pat’s position with Ruben is well documented so I have to come out and own this decision, be responsible for it and explain it.”

When he was first introduced back in June, as the Phillies’ record stood at 27-54 after getting swept at home by the similarly bad Milwaukee Brewers, MacPhail felt pulling the plug on Amaro’s tenure was going to be a much easier conclusion to reach. The 62-year-old said there were a couple of factors that made the decision tougher, getting to know Amaro better personally and then watching him pull the strings up-close on what MacPhail deemed was a successful trade deadline.

MacPhail wasn’t taking credit for any of those trades. Multiple times, he emphasized that Amaro was running the show on the deals that sent franchise cornerstones Cole Hamels and Chase Utley out of town. The Phillies’ collective reasoning was that granting a complete outsider full power in early July would have proven disruptive so close to the deadline. So they let Amaro do his thing, and MacPhail came away pleased by what he was able to accomplish.

“He executed a good game plan over July [and August],” MacPhail said. “And I was serious when I said I think we’re going to reap the benefits of his efforts for years to come, I hope.”

“It’s not a popularity contest,” Middleton said. “That’s why when the question was asked about that factor in the overall decision, it’s an issue. But you’re making a major decision on one of the most important jobs in the organization. It has to cover a lot more variables than just that."

Around the trade deadline, the power structure in the Phillies’ front office became a subject of intrigue once MacPhail came aboard. With three people who could theoretically execute any of the decisions, who was actually in charge? Were there Too Many Cooks? According to MacPhail, it was Amaro leading the way.

Things only stayed that way on a temporary basis, as transaction season is over and the Phillies have essentially flipped the calendar to “All About 2016” mode. Next season means the new guy is in control, which made for what MacPhail characterized as an uncomfortable situation. When asked directly if he felt awkward on a personal level, MacPhail was quick to respond: absolutely.

“Pat’s the president, I’m the incoming president three months down the road,” MacPhail said. “Ruben graduated from Stanford with a degree in biology. I think it’s safe to assume he knows how to read, and he’s had to read all of this stuff about his future.”

Just like in June, accompanying MacPhail on the dais was the new face of the Phillies’ ownership, John Middleton. This was MacPhail’s decision, but his boss was physically sitting right there to support him.

When answering organizational questions, Middleton likes to point out that baseball teams should run like other businesses. In this case, he said that the Phillies’ current state is the product of more than one person. Alas, like the losing project manager who hears “You’re fired” from Donald Trump more often than not, Amaro was the person in charge and thus held accountable.

One of the topics Middleton had to frequently address was the public relations angle. It’s no secret that Amaro isn’t popular in Philadelphia. Specifically, Middleton wasn’t thrilled about the controversial comments his former GM made back in May about fans not understanding the game (which likely led to the subsequent apology tour). While the owner admitted fan interest is always a factor, it was only a part here.

“It’s not a popularity contest,” Middleton said. “That’s why when the question was asked about that factor in the overall decision, it’s an issue. But you’re making a major decision on one of the most important jobs in the organization. It has to cover a lot more variables than just that."

According to MacPhail, Amaro requested if he could know his fate sooner rather than later. There are four other GM openings (Angels, Red Sox, Brewers, Mariners), which means there could potentially be plenty of positions within those organizations and all of baseball available to Amaro if he wants to continue.

For Amaro, this seems like a clean break from the organization he spent so much of his life affiliated with. When asked whether he offered another position to Amaro, MacPhail said the issue wasn’t discussed. Translation: nope. 

“I’m so confident that he is going to have a variety of opportunities to explore outside that that issue didn’t come up,” MacPhail said. “I’d be surprised if it ever does.”

When he received the news, the first thing that Amaro was concerned with was the rest of the baseball operations staff, the people who reported to him. As the kids say, that's a good look for the. They are going to be sticking around for at least 2016, but the man who was part of a lot of good times in Philly isn’t. And it was Andy MacPhail’s doing.

Better get used to that.


Thursday night’s scheduled game between the Phillies and Chicago Cubs was cancelled due to rain and will be made up Friday, Sept. 11, as part of a single-admission doubleheader which will begin at 5:05 p.m. All gates will open at 4:05 p.m.

Fans holding tickets to Thursday night's cancelled game may exchange them for tickets to any remaining Phillies home game this season, including tomorrow’s doubleheader. The tickets may also be exchanged for any 2016 home game when single game tickets go on sale in February. Exchanges should occur by May 31, 2016.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann