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March 25, 2016

Phillies, Mackanin agree on two-year deal

CLEARWATER, Fla. – It was just 3 1/2 years ago that Pete Mackanin was made to be one of the fall guys for the beginning of the fall of the great Phillies teams of a first decade of the 2000s.

Mackanin, a bench coach under manager Charlie Manuel for four seasons, was dismissed from the coaching staff on the final day of the 2012 season, along with first base coach Sam Perlozzo and hitting coach Greg Gross,  after the Phillies finished a 81-81 season, year after the same team won a franchise record 102 games.

The .500 record was hardly the fault of the coaching staff, of course, and was more the result of the perfect storm of declining veterans, a disabled list regularly filled with former All-Stars, and a front office that failed to fix what was breaking before its eyes.

The Phillies obviously valued the baseball mind and personality Mackanin had brought to the ballpark daily. That was obvious when, in fall of 2014, a little more than two years after they had fired him, the Phillies welcomed Mackanin back to join manager Ryne Sandberg’s staff.

It was even more obvious on Friday in Clearwater, when first-year general manager Matt Klentak wasted little time in making a commitment to the manager he inherited in October. Ten days before the Phillies take the field for their first game of the 2016 season, Klentak announced a new two-year deal for Mackanin.

The contract supersedes the previous deal Mackanin had for the 2016 season and gives him not only certainty for 2017, too, but also the option to remain at his post in 2018, when the front office has a club option to retain his services. (The previous, one-year deal only had a club option for 2017). 

“Pete and I have developed a very strong working relationship over the last five months and I’m absolutely confident that he’s the right person to lead this organization as we grow forward,” Klentak said during a press conference at Bright House Field on Friday afternoon. “In my opening press conference (in October) I talked at length about building an environment in which players had the ability to play loose and play confidently, to have fun and ultimately to reach their ceilings. Pete has taken that philosophy and turned it into a reality this spring, both in the clubhouse and on the field.”

The 64-year-old Mackanin stepped in as the Phillies interim manager last June, when Sandberg abruptly quit after less than two full seasons on the job. He now has the opportunity to stick around and see out the organization’s rebuild.

“It's very exciting,” he said. “I think the Phillies belong up there among the best teams in baseball, and I think we're on the right track right now. I couldn’t be more pleased right now with the way Matt and has done his part. I like everything he's done so far. I like the players we've acquired. We have great decisions, tough decisions to make. Not because we can't find anybody to play but because we have so many competent players that it's going to be a tough decision to pick the right ones. I'm happy to put my stamp on it. My mandate is to keep the guys positive, keep them playing with energy and keep them playing the game the right way.”

Mackanin’s style is somewhat similar to Manuel, the first manager he worked for as a member of the Phillies coaching staff. He’s constantly upbeat, quick with a joke, and the kind of manager that attempts to cultivate a positive vibe in his clubhouse, while also running a tight enough ship to keep players in line, too.

“Everybody’s happy with him and everybody wants to play for him – it’s fun to play for him,” said veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, one of two players, along with Ryan Howard, who also worked with Mackanin during his first tour on the coaching staff. “I remember the first time that I met him. He tried to tell a joke. And for me, I was like, this guy is always happy and make everybody feel relaxed. That’s huge for the young guys and also for the veterans too.”

“We love playing under him,” Aaron Nola said. “He kind of chills everything out. He makes the game fun. He makes the clubhouse fun.”

Last June, Mackanin inherited a Phillies team that was 22 games under .500. But even with talented veterans on the way out in the season’s final three months, including Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley, Mackanin managed to guide the Phillies to a 34-37 record after the All-Star break. It helped win him a chance to remove the interim tag for the first time in his career (he previously worked as an interim manager in both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati).

And after working with Klentak for five months, sharing similar philosophies on how to build a team and create an environment conducive to winning, he’s earned the chance to stick around for a while longer and not have the possible distraction of an expiring contract on his mind.

“I thought he earned this,” Klentak said. “We wanted to make sure it’s clear that the one year deal he signed before it’s done, it’s ripped up. This is a commitment we’re making … this is a clean start between Pete and I.”

Klentak said he approached Mackanin with the contract earlier this week.

“He wanted to give me a few days to read it and make sure everything was in there that I liked,” Mackanin said. “I only needed about 10 seconds. I said I'm good without reading it. We discussed it a couple of days ago and it led to this. I couldn't be happier.”

It’s quite the career turnaround for a man who went on many a manager interview in the last two decades, who was the proverbial bridesmaid-but-never-the-bride as an interim manager and bench coach who never got the chance to sit in the most important seat in a big league dugout.

“Four, five years ago I had given up the thought of managing in the big leagues because I thought I would have had a chance earlier,” Mackanin said. “The fact that I didn’t, made it easier for me to take over in this position because like I said, if I were younger, I probably would be a little more worried about it. But at this point in my career I’m just thrilled that I’m doing it and I’m thrilled that I’m doing it for the Philadelphia Phillies. I spent a long time here as a player, a coach and now as a manager and it’s very gratifying to be the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.”