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February 15, 2016

The Q&A ... with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin

Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla., tomorrow, on the eve of the first workout of the Phillies 2016 season. Sportswriters report, too – I’m typing these words mid-flight.

Front office personnel also report, along with the coaching staff, the clubhouse staff, and yes, the manager.

Pete Mackanin will begin his first spring training as a major league manager this week.

The affable former bench coach of the 2009-12 Phillies teams returned to the coaching staff at the beginning of the 2014 season under manager Ryne Sandberg. Mackanin then rose to the top seat in the dugout when Sandberg abruptly quit at the beginning of last summer and then became the full-time manager in September, shedding the interim tag.

The 64-year-old Mackanin has the distinction of having played with some of the greatest players to wear a Phillies uniform (1978-79) and then coaching some, too (2009-12, 14-16). Mackanin bats third in The Q&A, following outfield prospect Nick Williams and Opening Day starter hopeful Aaron Nola.

Everyone in sports obviously uses wins and losses as barometers for success, but with a young team like this, what do you look at as the goal for what you hope to achieve this year?

     Pete Mackanin: I don’t really want to set a particular goal, but let’s put it this way: wins and losses at this level, that’s how you gauge how good of a team you are. That being said, we know we’re in a transition phase and we might not win 100 games. But you know what, I choose to be as positive as I can be. I’m the captain of the ship. And I feel like I should be the most positive guy out there and look to win an awful lot of games. That being said, we have room for improvement and we need to count on the players to show the improvement we think they’re capable of showing.

As long as everyone improves, then it’s a good year.

     Yeah, little by little, step by step.

Pete Mackanin, Major League manager. How does that sound ... did that sink in this winter?

     Yeah, you know what, Ryan, after so many years in the game, I can remember in the late 80s and early 90s I was one of those guys that the Sporting News (called) a top managerial prospect, things like that, two or three times. It never came to fruition and then all of a sudden – I think the key to this whole process is I got fired from this organization in 2012, left and then came back and now I’m the manager. I think that’s what you have to do.

I feel like that happened to (Larry) Bowa, too. (Correction: Bowa didn’t get fired as a coach only to become manager, but the opposite: he was fired as Phillies manager after the 2004 season, and then hired to join Ryne Sandberg’s coaching staff beginning with the 2014 season).

     Yeah, of course.

Maybe there’s a blueprint there.

     There’s something to it.

What and where is the best thing you’ve eaten in Philadelphia?

     I don’t know if I can say this – my wife and I have a lot of favorite restaurants. We like Talula’s Garden, we like Osteria, we like Capital Grille, McCormick and Schmick's, Butcher and Singer, The Prime Rib – we try to hit them all. Ocean Prime. There’s a couple of others on Passyunk that I can’t remember the names. There’s a bunch. We try to try a lot of different restaurants. In regard to cheesesteaks .... we were on our way (to Lakewood, NJ) through Jersey I forget what road we were on but it was off a street called Browning and there’s a place called Carmen’s Deli. Which is in Jersey. But to me, and I’ve tried them all, they’re the best cheesesteaks around. We actually live downtown. But we’ll drive out there to try cheesesteaks.

That’s good to know. I live in Jersey. There’s place called Chick's in Cherry Hill I like a lot.

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

     I tell you what: every time I go to Chicago (Mackanin's hometown) I have to have a hot dog. There’s something about the hot dogs in Chicago that nobody can duplicate. I don’t know why. But I was so happy because there’s a place there called Portillo’s that sells Italian beef and Chicago hot dogs. And now there’s one of those in Scottsdale, Arizona (near his offseason home). I’ve made a weekly trip to go there. So in other words, every time I go to Chicago I get an Italian beef, a Chicago hot dog, and a Southside pizza.

The trifecta. What’s your go-to place for pizza in Chicago?

     Well, it used to be Geno’s when I was in college – I went to school there. Geno’s deep dish. But I grew up on the Southside. So I like the thin crust (where) they cut it into squares and there’s the real sausage and … anywhere on the Southside. But Southside Chicago-style pizza. I can’t name a single place though.

If you like thin crust, check out Holy Tomato. (Like your cheesesteak place) it’s also in Jersey. It’s in Blackwood off the Black Horse Pike – probably 15 minutes from the stadiums.

     [Mackanin plugs it into his phone] You’ve been to Cincinnati, right?


     Have you ever been to Donato’s? It’s just like Southside Chicago pizza. Every time I go to Cincinnati, if I get there after a day game, I always order a whole pizza and I scarf it right down.

Well, we’re there right away, on Opening Day. Now I know where I’m going.

What else do you like about Chicago?

     You know, it’s funny. I grew up in Chicago, and then I left when I was 17 to play baseball. I went to school there in the winter and lived there until maybe I was 20 or 21. But then I’d go off to winter ball, so I really never spent a lot of time there. I remember growing up there. It was my hometown and it was no big deal. But now I go to the big leagues later in my career and I go to Chicago and I went, ‘Holy cow, what a city!’


     I didn’t really – I took for granted the city. Because you don’t know anything else (when it’s your hometown). But when I left to play baseball, off to Wilmington, North Carolina … it’s just that whole Loop area, downtown area, it’s just spectacular. The lake. It’s just a fantastic city all the way around.

Yep, a lot to do, a lot to see. It’s clean, people are friendly.

     I’m glad to say I was from there.

Who was your favorite member of the 2009 Phillies?

     The 2009 Phillies?

Yep, team that went to the World Series (during your first year on Charlie Manuel’s coaching staff).

     OK, there are three guys that come to my mind: Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) – I’ve always liked Chooch – Chooch, (Shane) Victorino, and (Raul) Ibanez. Those three guys in particular, I just like them a lot.

Just the energy they brought every day?

     Just the type of people they are, the way they play the game. For whatever reason, I can’t even put a finger on it, but those guys were super guys. Not that I didn’t like the other guys – I like Ryan Howard, he’s a great guy. I like Jimmy (Rollins). Jimmy was different, but I like Jimmy. Those three guys jumped into my head (though).

Best player you ever watched in person? Could be someone you watched as a kid…

     Two players come to mind, and I didn’t put too much thought into it, it’s not Joe DiMaggio or anything like that. I remember in ’73, my first year in the big leagues, I was with the Rangers and playing against the Detroit Tigers. And Al Kaline was playing right field. They had a ton of old guys - Al Kaline, Mickey Stanley. Bill Freehan was catching, Norm Cash. All of these old guys. The other guys that come to my mind… 

So not Griffey then (who Mackanin managed as an interim manager in Cincinnati)?

     Well, I saw him at the end. Oh, as a middle infielder, I was always amazed at two guys. Having played with (Larry) Bowa for a full season and watching him play shortstop? He’s a freak, he never missed. He never missed! He was like a freak. And I’ve told him that. I liked him for that reason. He was a little unorthodox, but Alan Trammel made a big impression on me. He was so smooth, excellent fielder as well. He made everything look so easy. It’s funny how you ask that question and those are the first guys that pop into my mind. I played against and with some Hall of Famers.

If you could have dinner with three people dead or alive, who are you choosing? They’d be alive for dinner.

     I tell you – and I don’t know if I should give away my political leanings but this guy Greg Gutfeld - I think that’s his name, he’s on Fox – I think he’s brilliant. I just love this guy. Let me think of others. Who else?

You can take people from all walks of life.

     Let me think it over and I’ll get back to that.

Should a manager have a “Walk-Out” song.

     Noooooo ... not for me. I’ve made the transition from old school baseball guy to being more, you know, recent. But I don’t see that. I don’t like that.

I hear ya. But hitters have them, pitchers have them. You’re wearing a uniform like them.

     Yeah, it’s like you hear complaints about umpires, “it’s not about them. No one’s looking at you, they’re looking at the players.” I don’t want anyone looking at me – for a number of reasons. [Laughs]. If we win the whole thing, I’ll take some credit. But, you know. It goes both ways.

How about if you were playing? What song would you choose?

     It’s funny, because even when I started playing (more) I was with the Expos. They asked me what my walkout song (would be). This shows you how much different players are today - I said “Pop Goes the Weasel.” I didn’t care. And that’s what they played.

That’s so great.

     “Pop Goes the Weasel.” I didn’t care.

Do you have a pick for an Oscar winner?

     I saw “The Revenant.” I’m not sure who else was nominated. I don’t think anybody was from “Creed,” but I’m anxious to see that.

Sylvester Stallone was nominated. 

     Yeah, I’m not sure what else was nominated.

The Matt Damon movie, The Martian.

     Didn’t see it. Yeah, I’d have to have a list in front of me. Because I’m sure I saw some, I love movies, I see a lot of movies. I can’t think.

Favorite actor? Someone you would definitely see their movie if it was out.

     I can’t think - the first that pop up were from the 50s.

Like Humphrey Bogart?

     Stuff like that - but that’s not going to be my answer. You know what, Leonardo DiCaprio. When he was in the one with the diamond - Blood Diamond. I never liked him, I never thought much of him until I saw that movie. I said, ‘Boy, what a good job.’ Just with the way – he had that dialect, that accent.’ There are other people … but he won me over (there).

Favorite thing about Clearwater?

     Beachcomber restaurant. I love that place.

[Sends Pete a message a month later.] Did you come up with those any three people, dead or alive, to have dinner with?

     My three are Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan, Babe Ruth.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21