Gabe Kapler does his homework.
The 42-year-old stud muffin — did we really just say that? — was officially introduced as the 54th manager in Phillies history on Thursday. Kapler was polished and articulate as he spoke to reporters during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. He addressed a couple of thorny issues head-on (see story). He spoke with the passion of a tent revival preacher — or was it Randy "Macho Man" Savage? — as he talked about inspiring and leading young players to baseball's Promised Land. He came across as competitive, intense, brainy, quirky, resourceful, hard-working and prepared.
That preparedness showed when he punctuated his inspiring opening remarks by citing a moment that has come to symbolize where the Phillies once were and where they haven't been in a long time.
"Bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton," a fired-up Kapler, wearing a fresh, new, red Phillies cap, said of his goals.
Middleton, the team's controlling owner and the man who pushed to bring change and outside perspectives like Kapler's to the Phillies over the last 2½ years, sat in the front row as his new manager spoke. He had to have been impressed that Kapler took the time to research a famous moment that occurred eight autumns ago on the night the Phillies failed to repeat as World Series champions. In the losing clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that night in 2009, Middleton approached Ryan Howard and said, "Ryan, I want my (bleeping) trophy back." The Phillies haven't been back to the World Series since and haven't had a winning season in six years. Now, it's Kapler's job to try to get the Phillies where they once were. It won't happen overnight — this team is still in a rebuild, after all — but Kapler is ready for the challenge and believes the first step in getting that bleeping trophy back is playing in the mold of the man who played second base on that 2008 World Series championship team.
"I was lucky enough to get to know Chase Utley in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse," said Kapler, who most recently served as the Dodgers' director of player development. "It was unbelievable how much intensity he prepared for the game with, and during the game how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.
"We’re going to play with the same level of intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare so that we've thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We will care deeply about winning and we will be ultra-competitive."
Kapler succeeds Pete Mackanin, who was moved to a front-office advisory role at the end of the 2017 season. A fitness and nutrition aficionado with a physique that attests to that, Kapler is also deeply committed to the use of analytics in constructing rosters, lineups and running games. His interest and literacy in analytics mirrors that of the front office and made him a natural candidate.
"As we were reaching the end of the [interview] process, it became very clear there was one person who separated himself and was the right man to lead the Phillies into the future," general manager Matt Klentak said.
"Gabe Kapler is incredibly prepared. If he brings the same level of preparation and grit to the Phillies that he brought to the field as a player, our fans are going to love this guy.
"He has a unique ability to connect with people and I think that bodes very well for our young roster. He's a progressive thinker. Look at the teams (Indians, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros) that competed in the last two World Series. These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball. That's where the Phillies need to head and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future."
Kapler played 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He has just one year of managing experience in the minor leagues, but that was not seen as a detriment by management.
"At some point, everybody has no experience," said Middleton, the 62-year-old former wrestling star who looks like he could still administer a half-nelson with ease.
Like Klentak, Middleton likes Kapler's commitment to thinking outside the box from everything from nutrition to analytics to communicating with players. (Kapler mentioned that some players respond best to text messages.)
And there's one other thing Middleton likes about his new skipper.
"I’m a reasonably intense guy, I’ve been told, so I think we connected literally on a visceral level," Middleton said.
There is still work to do for these Phillies. It will be a busy offseason as Klentak is expected to shop both of his middle infielders (Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez) for trades. He also needs to add a couple of starting pitchers. But the offseason's first order of business is complete. Gabe Kapler is on board. The next task is building a coaching staff. Triple A manager Dusty Wathan, a runner-up for the manager's job (see story), could be on the staff. Rick Kranitz, the assistant pitching coach in 2017, could move into the head role.
"I believe in building diversity," Kapler said. "I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience and I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."