October 31, 2017
The monthlong search is over ... as is the daylong wait for the team to confirm the reports from here and everywhere else.
The Phillies announced late Monday afternoon that they will introduce Gabe Kapler as the 54th manager in franchise history later this week, following the conclusion of the World Series.
Kapler comes to Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he’s worked in the front office as the director of player development for the last three years. At 42, he’s the youngest Phillies manager since then 37-year-old Terry Francona was hired 21 years ago.
Kapler follows a growing trend in baseball of teams hiring managers with scant managerial experience (the two managers in the World Series were such hires not long ago) but with a younger, more progressive worldview that could better work (they hope) in conjunction with a hands-on, analytically-friendly front office.
But you’ve probably already heard all of that above Kapler before, including in the half dozen times or so he’s been mentioned in this space in the last month.
So what else is there to know about Kapler, a Hollywood, Calif., native who will now be calling Philadelphia home? Quite a bit, actually, but we tried to trim it down to a dozen fun facts.
And we’ll start with his one connection to the Phillies.
Kapler played for six teams in his 12-year big league career, but that career began with the Detroit Tigers. Kapler was selected by the Tigers in the 57th round of the 1995 draft.
And the area scout that found him for the Tigers? Dennis Lieberthal, the father of Phillies Wall of Famer Mike Lieberthal (the franchise’s all-time leader in games caught).
A year later, in 1996, the Tigers drafted another of Dennis Lieberthal’s guys, Robert Fick. Fick represented the Tigers in the All-Star Game six years later. Kapler never made an All-Star team, but...
The 57th round doesn’t even exist anymore (the current MLB Draft is capped at 40 rounds). To put the uphill battle Kapler had to climb to make it to the big leagues into perspective, he was drafted 24 rounds after Phillies spring training Cinderella story Brock Stassi (33rd round, 2010) went in his own draft.
Kapler, the 1,488th-overall pick in 1995, obviously overachieved. He was one of 10 players from the 59 players the Tigers drafted in ’95 to reach the big leagues, and one of just six members of that group to have a positive career WAR.
In fact, Kapler’s 8.8 career WAR is the best for any 57th-round pick in MLB history, and it’s not close. Orlando Palmeiro (2.7 WAR) and Paul Wilson (2.2) are the only other two with a career WAR above 2.0.
The 1995 MLB Draft isn’t one Phillies fans probably want to hear about. The Phils selected Reggie Taylor with their first-round pick (14th overall). Four picks later, Toronto selected Roy Halladay.
But just as Halladay was the Blue Jays top prospect in 1999…
This is quite a climb for the 1,488th player selected in the draft four years ago, huh? Well, there was a reason for that meteoric rise: Kapler hit really well in the minor leagues.
Kapler showed both power and on-base skills in 2 1/2 seasons in A-ball and then worked his way up to Double-A Jacksonville in 1998 and had a summer to remember. Kapler hit .322 with a .393 OBP, 28 home runs, 47 doubles, and 146 RBI in 139 games in the South Atlantic League that season.
Kapler set single-season league records for RBI and extra-bases that still stand in the Sally League today. One of Kapler’s teammates on those ’98 Jacksonville Suns? Dave Roberts, the man he’d finished runner-up to for the Dodgers manager's job and also his teammate when...
Although Kapler had more regular-season at-bats than any Boston outfielder other than Johnny Damon or Manny Ramirez in 2004, he started just one game in the postseason (the first playoff game the Red Sox played that month). But Kapler was inserted into Game 4 of the World Series as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium and recorded the antepenultimate out of the game (the first out of the ninth, that is) when Scott Rolen hit a fly ball his way.
So far we’ve already managed to include Scott Rolen, Terry Francona, and Mike Lieberthal into this story. Like Lieberthal…
I’m not certain that, in 2017, it’s newsworthy to report on a player’s religion unless it’s a large part of that player’s identity. But there is plenty of history regarding Jewish ballplayers and Kapler is surely a part of that and is entering more exclusive company.
The only six other Jewish managers in baseball history: Brad Ausmus, Bob Melvin, Jeff Newmann, Lou Boudreau, Lipman Pike, and Norm Sherry.
Kapler has said in the past that he’d rather be known as a ballplayer rather and as a Jewish ballplayer, but it’s not as if he’s shunning his faith, either. He has a Star of David tattoo on one of his legs and the dates of the start and end of the Holocaust on the other.
The first two seasons after winning the World Series with the Red Sox saw Kapler briefly take his playing career to Japan and return only to rupture his Achilles’ tendon, limiting him to a total of 108 games in 2005 and 2006 combined. And so he decided to retire (briefly) and try something else.
The Red Sox gave him a job as a manager for their Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, the Greenville (S.C.) Drive. Right across the street from the first base gate at Fluor Field is the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, the remodeled boyhood home of the banished White Sox legend.
Kapler resumed his playing career with the Brewers in 2008 (he wasn’t on the postseason roster but was at Citizens Bank Park for the National League Division Series against the Phillies). But back to Greenville: Kapler’s Drive team (which had Josh Reddick and little else) went 58-81 and had the worst ERA (5.30) in the 16-team league.
When your high school (William Howard Taft Charter High School) sits just west of the Hollywood Hills, there’s a fair chance you might run into a celebrity in the hallway.
Kapler was in high school in the 1990s, meaning he just missed taking gym class or geometry with a trio of rap stars that were all iconic in their own way in the 90s: Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Danny Boy O’Connor. Who is Danny Boy O’Connor, you ask? He was the mastermind behind House of Pain, of course.
Kapler was also too young to be classmates with Lisa Kudrow, Robin Wright, or Justine Bateman (Mallory!), or with Susan Olsen or Maureen McCormick. Who are the last two, you ask? Cindy and Marcia Brady, of course. Sorry, Jan Brady did not go to Taft.
But a baseball Hall of Famer did: Robin Yount. So did two former baseball managers: Larry Dierker and Kevin Kennedy. And the venerable Pete LaCock. And a bunch of NFL people, too, including Jeff Fisher, Steve Smith, and recent Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.
OK. Fine. I just like the name Tuffy Rhodes. And once I saw they were teammates with the Yomiuri Giants in 2005, I felt it was only right to pass it on.
Rhodes and Kapler have something else in common: they both had multi-home run games on Opening Day in their career.
Rhodes famously hit three home runs off Dwight Gooden at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994, to become the first player in National League history to homer three times on Opening Day. Kapler homered in each of his first two at-bats as a Texas Ranger on Opening Day in 2000, five months after the Tigers traded him away in the eight-player deal that brought Juan Gonzalez to Detroit.
I have nothing else to add here. Other than I didn’t realize K-Swiss was still a brand of shoe you can buy today. What a time to be alive.
I mean he’s 6-foot-2 and he’s a professional athlete. Is this impressive? I feel like if I was 6-2 (spoilers: I’m not. I’m not even 6-foot) that I could dunk, too, if I was a pro athlete.
Anyway, Kapler probably deserves a decent seeding in the annual Phillies Spring Training Dunk contest.
In his post-playing career, among other things, Kapler has worked as a writer an analyst, both at Baseball Prospectus and at FS1 (Fox Sports). As we’ve written here numerous times before, he’s into analytics. But he also comes across pretty well on TV, which should speak to his communications skills and personality, which are also important traits when running a major league clubhouse over the course of a 162-game season.
Kapler also once debated sports on TV with Donovan McNabb!
You’ve probably seen the photos on social media from those weird people you follow to keep your Twitter feed ... interesting. But Kapler is actually kind of famous for his physique. Esteemed Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan nicknamed Kapler “The Body.” It’s probably only a matter of time before Kapler, who has posed shirtless for fitness magazines, recreates the Pat Burrell “Man or Machine” thing, right?
Anyway, in addition to working out on the reg, Kapler keeps up an interesting blog – kaplifestyle.com – that touches on everything from fitness, nutrition, health, and more. He's a Renaissance man, really. We’ll leave you here with a note from Kapler on an entry titled, “Handling Anger.”
“If you’re pissed off at the actions of another, pause before you take action. A deep breath and a few hours will allow you to manage nearly every situation more appropriately. … Obviously, the ability of anger to be a productive motivator depends heavily on the individuals you’re working with. Even if you believe that it has a purpose in your leadership toolbox, the important thing to note is that this is a controlled, deliberate expression of anger. We’ve been told for years to “let it out,” to vent our anger and frustrations. This is a bad idea. … The seething rage you feel in the heat of the moment is not conducive for building relationships or promoting change. It’s reasonable to express a lack of contentment with a friend or coworker’s behavior, but with a calculated plan. Just make sure that you’re not on tilt emotionally when you take that step.”
My takeaway: Just because Kapler might resemble the Hulk, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be flipping over the postgame spread and cursing out players in the clubhouse after bad losses.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21
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