June 01, 2016
Eleven days ago, Pete Mackanin stood in the hallway separating his office and the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and was asked about the complicated situation that was only getting more complicated every day.
He was asked about his struggling former MVP, Ryan Howard, and the recently promoted rookie, Tommy Joseph, who was added to the roster for offense but is limited to first base after a series of concussions cost him a catching career.
“He’s got to start giving us better at-bats,” Mackanin said of Howard, who was well below the Mendoza line on the season and barely hitting .100 in the month of May.
The situation came to a head on Wednesday afternoon, when Mackanin, after starting Howard in each of the first two games of a three-game series against Washington, called his starting first baseman into his office.
Mackanin told Howard he would be sitting him on the bench for the next “three to four” games and to use the time to clear his head and use it as a sort of “All-Star break” to get right again. But the manager made clear to say the move is more about getting Joseph an opportunity.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Mackanin said.
Mackanin said the "three-to-four game" break for Howard could end up being longer, too.
"We’ll see what Tommy does in three or four days," the first-year manager said. "That very well could extend that period of time to a week. It depends on how well he looks. ... It's not really so much about Ryan. It's about seeing the younger guy who tore it up in Triple-A and came up here to make a good first impression. We want to get a look at him. As we know, this season is about the future. We're in the middle of a rebuilding process. We have to find out about him to see if he fits in."
Shortly after leaving the manager’s office, Howard walked over to Joseph’s locker.
“I went over and told Tommy, because the mental game of preparing, you know, is different when you know you’re going to be in there,” Howard said. “I said, ‘Hey, you’re in there the next 3-4 days, whatever it may be. Do what you’ve got to do to go out and kick some butt.’”
The 36-year-old Howard is handling his benching professionally. But he also said he’s not going to quit, either.
That said, he also understands where he stands: Howard is hitting .154 after 46 games, which ranks 200th among the 200 major league players with at least 150 plate appearances this season.
Here is more from Howard not long after hearing the news of his “three-to-four game” break, which Mackanin said could extend further is Joseph plays well.
When did Pete talk to you?
Howard: He talked to me today. We had a conversation. I told him, I get it. I know where I am right now. You know, I understand. By no means am I trying to relinquish my job or anything but you know, I’ve played the game long enough to know and understand. Hey, I want to win. And I’m going to get my stuff figured out. Going got continue to focus on getting my stuff figured out. Take this time and recoup and keep working. I went over -- after I talked to Pete -- I went over and told Tommy. Because the mental game of preparing, you know, is different when you know you’re going to be in there. I said hey, you’re in there the next 3-4 days, whatever it may be. Do what you’ve got to do to go out and kick some butt.
You were on the other side of this once, 10-11 years ago. Do you understand it from the other side, the younger player, the organization wanting to see the younger player?
I mean, the organization has been wanting to see younger players for the last three years. So, I mean, yeah, I get it. My situation was a little bit different, obviously with [Jim] Thome getting hurt and getting the opportunity to be able to go out there and play, and making the most of my opportunity. That, I guess you’d say is a little bit different in that sense.
Pete said you weren’t happy with the news [Editor’s note: that’s not exactly what Mackanin said].
If you’re happy with the news than why are you playing? We’re all competitors here. If you don’t want to be out here to play, if you’re going to be happy with something like that, than you probably should just pack it up and go home.
Mackanin said it was an opportunity to clear your head?
My head is fine. Like I said, it’s one of those things. I get it, I get it. I mean, you gotta go out and perform, you gotta put up. Tommy’s going to get to go out there and play. I’m going to be out there, I’m going to support Tommy and support the rest of my teammates.
What will you do for the next three or four days?
I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come hang out with you guys. Honestly, I’m going to go through my routines every single day. Be in the cage trying to get all the kinks ironed out, put May behind me and try to have a good June.
And if it doesn’t get better, use your own words, would you pack it up and go home?
If things didn’t ever get better? No, I’m not going to quit. That’s not in the vocabulary. That’s the easiest thing to do, is quit and give up when things are hard. You really see what you’re made of when those things are not going the way you want them to go. Things are real easy when you’re going good and everybody’s all behind you and this and that, or whatever, and you see how things turn when things aren’t going so well but you gotta continue to just battle. And that’s what I’m going to do.
If this continues, will you be OK being a complementary player?
I’m going to do my best to keep that from happening. I’m not even going to try to think like that. Like I said, just work on me. Just try to get things together, support my teammates out there and then when I get the opportunity to go play, try to go do what I can.
How uncomfortable is this, answering these questions, being where you’re at?
I don’t think anybody wants to answer questions like this. I mean, it’s a game. And anybody who has played the game, you play this game long enough, you’re going to have ups and downs. Being in the situation where I am, that’s where I am. That’s the reality of it right now. The only thing, like I was saying earlier, my sophomore baseball coach, shout out Mr. Dirks (spelling?), told me a long time ago. He’s like, ‘Hey, you can either sit there and just sulk about it or you can do something about it.’ The only thing I can do is do something about it.
Is this the toughest thing you’ve dealt with in your career?
I mean I don’t think I’ve ever had a month like May but, I mean, it’s happened. You’ve had really, really good months and now I’ve had a really, really bad month. So now I’ll try to leave that bad month by itself and try to have a bunch more good months.