Casey Feeney

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Gabe Kapler’s formal introduction to Philadelphia will come later this week following the conclusion of the World Series.

His informal indoctrination as Phillies manager came Monday afternoon when he stepped off the plane at Philadelphia International Airport and was greeted by the city’s unofficial welcoming committee — "Johnny Airport" himself, John Clark.

Kidding aside, Kapler’s impact on the Phillies is a story on its first page, let alone chapter. With no previous track record as a major-league manager or coach to rely upon, we’re basically all guessing what Kapler brings to the table. 

So what can we reasonably take away from the Kapler hire right now? 

• Status quo simply will not do for the Phillies anymore. There was a time, not that long ago, when the organization likely would have hired Dusty Wathan as the next manager. He’s been a good soldier for the club at the minor-league level, winning games while developing some of the talent that has now arrived at the big-league level (more on him here). I actually think those factors worked against Wathan this time around. Starting with managing partner John Middleton and working down to GM Matt Klentak, the mandate for a fresh approach has been made clear. You could argue that the three most prominent roles in the organization — team president, general manager and manager — are now helmed by three men (Andy MacPhail, Klentak and Gabe Kapler) who had no ties to the organization as early as two and a half years ago.

• The front office wants more say in the day-to-day roster usage and game management. That doesn’t mean that Pete Mackanin did not use analytics in creating lineups or managing the pitching staff. It also should not be interpreted to mean that Kapler is just turning his lineup card over to the club’s recently bolstered analytics department and calling it a day. But I think it’s safe to assume that the days of starting Cameron Perkins as a leadoff hitter six times in a season are gone. It’s just logical to have a manager and front office as united as possible on how the roster is being deployed.

• It’s a low-risk, high-reward hire. Hiring a manager is an uncertain endeavor, a fact more crystallized when the selection has no prior experience at the big-league level. It’s possible that Kapler’s methods, whatever they might be, will not be received by the players. Then again, Kapler may be a revelation, a force of nature the likes of which has never be seen in the Phillies' dugout. Either way, managers are not forever. They are replaced with relative ease. More importantly, Kapler is not going to deliver Sixto Sanchez to the big leagues fully healthy and dominating the competition. And Kapler is not going to help Mickey Moniak take the steps necessary to develop into the player the Phillies dreamt of when taking the high school product first overall. It’s in individuals like that where the Phillies’ future success or failure ultimately lies.

So basically, we’ll have to wait and see with Gabe Kapler. It may work. It may not. The only thing we can truly count on in this world is "Johnny Airport."

What it was like to be a kid during Darren Daulton's Phillies peak

What it was like to be a kid during Darren Daulton's Phillies peak

I've loved sports for as a long as I can remember. I learned to read by looking at box scores in the newspaper. One of the first names I remember seeing on those pages was Daulton.

Unfortunately, baseball didn't love me back early in my childhood. Born in the summer of 1984, my earliest sports memories are of lean times in Philadelphia sports. I would actually sit and do the math in my head and figure out if I was conceived between Game 1 and Game 2 of the 1983 World Series and whether or not that meant I was the "bad luck guy." 

So, yeah, it wasn't pleasant being a young Phillies fan in the early '90s.

Perhaps no image better represented those lean times than Ray Lankford freight-training Darren Daulton on a Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium for a walk-off win in April 1991. The collision was so jarring that Daulton didn't drop the ball, so much as his glove catapulted off of his hand. Daulton missed the next couple of games as he tried to deal with what was likely a concussion. But the image that has always stuck with me from that moment was Lankford defiantly rising to his feet. It was almost likely he was angry that a game against the Phillies required that type of effort.

Being 6 years old at the time, I knew the Phillies were in the National League and that a National League team went to the World Series. But it never occurred to me that the Phillies could actually play in it. Even though I loved them, I just assumed that the Phillies basically amounted to extras in a movie that starred teams like the Pirates, Reds and Braves.

Then 1993 happened. It was right in the sports sweet spot. I turned 9 years old that summer, so I was old enough to understand what was going on, young enough to have no other distractions. 

If you're too young to remember that '93 team, it's impossible to explain what happened. It's not just that most of the players looked like they could fit in at family parties across the Delaware Valley. It's not just that no one gave them a chance. It was the games themselves.

The buzz around that team truly built as they walked a tight-rope every night but somehow found a way to leave on the right side of the scoreboard.

Down 8-1 to the Giants? No problem. Here comes an eight-run rally to win it.

Losing to the Cardinals by three runs in the eighth and facing Lee Smith, one of the dominant closers of the era? Mariano Duncan grand slam.

Give up a run in the top of the 20th to the Dodgers? Dykstra walk-off two-run double.

Play a game that goes past 4 a.m.? The closer wins it with a base hit.

It felt like there was at least one game like that every week. 

And it was the player who had been plastered into the dirt at Busch Stadium just two seasons earlier who got up, dusted himself off and led the way. Daulton got the most out of a pitching staff that should have been league average. He also anchored the middle of what became a dominant lineup, driving in more than 100 runs for the second straight season.

In addition to his on-field abilities, it was his leading-man good looks that probably allowed me to watch so much of that team that season. In a world with no internet and only one cable box in the house, I had to convince my mother to let me watch all of the games. I think having Dutch on the team made it a little easier for my mom to stomach a summer spent watching two-and-a-half hours of baseball every night.

In Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, Daulton connected on a hanging Al Leiter slider to put the Phillies back up 9-7. That should have been the turning point we all looked back to years later, savoring the second championship in franchise history, the unlikeliest title in Philadelphia sports history. But a five-run lead and the Phillies' title dreams melted away in the mid-October rain. Everyone knows how this story ends. The first true heartbreak in my life.

I would later get to know Dutch when he spent time as an analyst at CSN. In an effort to not seem like a total fanboy, I never told him about my memories of that afternoon in St. Louis. Or how I wore No. 10 on my baseball team as a tribute. Or how I shaved that same No. 10 into my head that summer. Or how I learned to read by seeing his name in box scores. Now that he's gone, I sure wish I had.

Goodbye, Dutch. You taught me that baseball can love you back.

Even if Sixers' process is complete, philosophy behind it needs to stay

Even if Sixers' process is complete, philosophy behind it needs to stay

Is "The Process" over?

That is a question that has dominated the Philadelphia sports scene from the moment it became clear the 76ers were acquiring the first overall pick in the 2017 draft. The potential nucleus of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz certainly feels different than anything the Sixers have placed on the floor this century (with apologies to the JaKarr Sampson, Isaiah Canaan and Carl Landry triumvirate).

A promising team is hardly a winning one, so the debate lingers on as it relates to whether the Sixers' young talent will mature into a champion. That answer is likely years away.

So while some focus on the question, "Is The Process over?" perhaps it's ideal to reframe the question and ponder, "Should The Process ever end?"

It's easy to associate The Process with tanking. Seventy-five wins over four seasons underscore that line of thought. But tanking was always a part of The Process, never its entirety. 

At its heart, The Process revolves around finding the best way to position a franchise once lost in the wasteland that is in the middle of the NBA standings (with no hope of ever signing a true difference-making free agent) for long-term success.

More simply put: properly evaluating your situation plus making smart decisions based on that evaluation = The Process.

With that in mind, The Process should reign forever. That formula is how successful organizations in sports and otherwise, operate. The Patriots have a process. The Cubs have a process. The Warriors have a process. 

The tanking may be done. However, Sixers fans should hope The Process is far from over.

Trust that.