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September 29, 2017

The surprising dismissal of Pete Mackanin through the eyes of his right-hand man, Larry Bowa

A day after meeting with general manager Matt Klentak for what he believed would be a talk to discuss the future of his coaching staff with the regular season nearing an end, Pete Mackanin walked into his clubhouse on Friday afternoon and delivered the news to the veterans and rookies alike in the crowded home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.

“When Pete was talking, they were pretty somber,” bench coach Larry Bowa said. “But Pete had a way of loosening them up. He said, ‘I want you guys to play hard like you have been. If you win the last three games they might want to change their mind.”

Bowa laughed.

“Typical Pete,” he said.

But it was then brought up to him that if the Phillies delivered a bit of payback to the New York Mets this weekend, a team that has ruled the Phils’ home ballpark in the last two years, and finished the 2017 season with a three-game sweep, they would somewhat miraculously end their regular season with a winning record (they’re currently 35-37) since the All-Star break.

“That’d be good,” Bowa said. “I consider, even if we didn’t win our last three games, where we came from and what we had to overcome? I thought it was fun. The second half was fun. I’m not going to lie to you, the first half was miserable. It was miserable.

“But, that’s what happens when you’re on a losing team, you’re not happy. Hopefully, it continues to be fun here. They’ve got some good young players. Hopefully, they make a couple of additions and the team can get back to where they wanted it to be.”

The 71-year-old Bowa, like many on an unexpectedly busy afternoon at the ballpark, was in a reflective mood. And unlike the man who made the headlines – Mackanin won’t manage in 2018, but he was given a multi-year contract to work as a special assistant to Klentak – Bowa will enter October uncertain where he’ll be when teams report to spring training in February.

As of Monday, all of the members of Mackanin’s coaching staff will become the equivalent of free agents. Klentak may recommend some to the team’s next manager – who very well might not be hired until November – but the coaches can also seek employment elsewhere, too.

Bowa made one thing clear on Friday. (Well two things, since he believed Mackanin did “a great job.” considering the circumstances). Bowa’s priority is to keep the red ‘P’ on his business card when the 2018 season begins.

Bowa has spent 33 of his 43 years in major league baseball (and 52 years in the game in total) with the Phillies. He was the club’s energetic, slick-fielding shortstop through the 70s and the World Championship 1980 team (1970-81), he was the club’s third base coach when they went to the 1993 World Series (1988-96), he came back as manager (2001-04), and then came back yet again as a bench coach when Ryne Sandberg was hired as manager (2014-17).

“All I can tell you is I’ve been in this uniform longer than anybody, since the Phillies existed,” said Bowa, whose only rival at any level might be Richie Ashburn, a Hall of Fame player and then popular long-time broadcaster with the team. “My No.1 priority is to stay in this organization. That’s all I’m going to say about that. That’s No.1. And if I’m not, then I’ll look for other stuff. But right now, I want to stay in this organization.”

In any role?

“Anything,” he said. “I want to stay in this organization. That’s all. That’s my No.1 priority. So whatever the front office does, that’s their call. … This is my home. This is where I grew up. People recognize me as a Phillie. I’m still, age-wise, what, 71, but you guys see me work every day. I’m relentless when it comes to that. So if they have something in mind, I’m going sit down and talk with them and see where it goes.”

After a late afternoon press conference was announced with little warning on Friday afternoon, with Klentak and Mackanin discussing the day’s news, Mackanin still did his usual pregame meeting with the press corps in his soon-to-be-vacated office.

But there was no talk about the upcoming game with the Mets. It was … awkward.

Mackanin was asked about the uncertain fate of guys like Bowa, hitting coach Matt Stairs, pitching coach Bob McClure, and the rest of the men in the adjacent room.

“I feel bad for the coaching staff,” Mackanin said. “I’m getting paid next year, so that’s something. But I feel bad for them because they’ve been great. They’ve all worked and done everything they can and had a great rapport with the players.”

But you won’t hear a hardened baseball man like Lawrence Robert Bowa feeling sorry for himself.

“I’ve been with Cesar (Hernandez), Freddy (Galvis), and Maikey (Franco) for a long time,” Bowa said. “And to see them grow. That’s satisfying.”

So what happened, exactly?

The Phillies weren’t supposed to contend or even finish in the top half of the National League East in 2017, their third season since the front office committed to a rebuild. Klentak announced a contract extension on May 11 for Mackanin, whose contract was set to expire at year’s end.

The Phillies showed marked improvement on the field since the All-Star break, a time that coincided with two of the organization’s top prospects (Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams) being promoted, essentially replacing the free agents who underperformed in the first half (Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick). And Mackanin’s Phillies had that success with basically one competent starting pitcher: entering Thursday, Aaron Nola had a 3.49 ERA since the All-Star break while the other starters had a combined 5.41 ERA in 57 games.

So, what happened? The front office extends the manager only to relieve him of his duties a little more than four months later, at the end of a productive two-month run from the team?

“You know, I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Bowa said. “All I can tell you is I think Pete did a great job. He took a really young team – and then we obviously got reinforcements, some good young players – and if you take a look at what he did in the second half, I thought he did a great job. But nothing in baseball (surprises me). You see everything in baseball. When you’re in baseball a long time, you’re not shocked by anything. Baseball is baseball. That’s the way it is.”

Klentak said the managerial search will begin immediately. And it will include baseball people from all backgrounds, as the front office looks at the landscape of who may or may not be available.

They could go younger. They could try to find someone that embraces analytics.

“I don’t know,” said Bowa, who interviewed for the Miami Marlins vacant managing job two years ago. “When you get interviewed for a manager’s job and somebody says, ‘Was it a good interview?’ And you go, ‘Yeah I thought it was great.’ But maybe in their mind, it wasn’t. So I don’t know, I really don’t know what the front office is looking for. They have their priorities for what they’re looking for and that’s why they get paid the big bucks.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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