If Joe Girardi’s first season as Phillies manager goes as well as his introductory news conference did, the Phillies will be playing October baseball for the first time since 2011 next season.
OK, OK. We know they need pitching and lots of it. But you get the point.
Girardi arrived in town Monday and killed it. He crushed it, knocked it out of the ballpark. He spun tales about sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field and watching Larry Bowa and Sarge Matthews play for the Chicago Cubs. He talked about getting his first big-league hit against Phillie Floyd Youmans and how his first trip as a big-leaguer was to Philadelphia. He had gotten the news that he was headed to the majors from his Triple A manager, a guy named Pete Mackanin. A couple of years later, Girardi suffered a broken nose in a home-plate collision with John Kruk. (Kruk visited Girardi in the hospital afterward.)
Girardi mentioned his friendship with the late, great John Vukovich — that’ll earn Joe some points right there — and how, as manager of the Florida Marlins in 2006, he requested an autographed ball from Ryan Howard for his five-year-old son Dante. Howard sent a message to Girardi that he’d sign a ball when Girardi stopped walking him. Girardi sent a message back saying he’d stop walking Howard when he stopped hitting home runs against the Marlins. Eventually, the two men met somewhere in the middle and young Dante got his autographed ball.
Of course, Girardi mentioned the high point of his 10-year managerial career with the New York Yankees, that club’s 2009 World Series title, claimed in six games over the Phillies.
Girardi, 55, was let go by the Yankees after the 2017 season. He was eager to get back into the game and was interviewed for manager openings with the Cubs and Mets. He said he started to look for signs about where he might end up when all of these little Phillies connections passed through his mind.
“This is a special place,” he said, later adding, “I’m a faithful man and this is where I really believe God meant me to be.”
All in all, the new Phillies skipper made a great first impression. Now, let’s cover a few meaty topics from the news conference:
Where were the big cheeses?
A number of club officials, as well as Jim Buck of the ownership group, were on hand for the news conference. Managing partner John Middleton and club president Andy MacPhail were noticeably absent. The Phillies did not present a unified front earlier this month at the news conference announcing Gabe Kapler’s firing. Middleton pushed for the change and ultimately made the call to dismiss Kapler. GM Matt Klentak was against the move. Word is that Middleton and MacPhail stayed away because the Phillies were concerned about perpetuating the narrative of a power struggle. So only Klentak sat at the dais with Girardi. Klentak said Girardi checked all the boxes — most notably success and experience — that the club was looking for. The Phillies interviewed Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter and Girardi. Sources say that Middleton, MacPhail and Klentak all agreed that Girardi was best for the job.
“I really think we’re getting one of the best,” Klentak said.
The two bosses
Middleton has been compared to George Steinbrenner for his deep pockets and will to win. Girardi played for Steinbrenner and managed for Steinbrenner. He interviewed with Middleton and has had several other meetings with him.
OK, Joe, compare and contrast.
“You know, people ask me that,” Girardi said. “George had a real expectation, was very driven to win. I think John is, too. Sometimes how things are expressed could be a little different. But again, I think what you see is the commitment and expectations are high, but so are mine. And so should every player’s in that room.”
Rules and regulations
Kapler ran a loose ship. Management wants more structure in the clubhouse. How will Girardi do that?
“It's simple,” Girardi said. “I don't think you have to give them a ton of rules. It's: Be on time. Be prepared. Be accountable to each other. Be respectful of each other. Love each other. Trust each other. Be respectful to the people around us. As long as you're on time and you're prepared and you're accountable and you're focused on winning, is there really anything else? You can encompass everything in those four rules.”
Oh, yeah, if you’re wondering: Bryce Harper can keep his beard.
Analytics are here to stay
Girardi has an engineering degree from Northwestern. He believes in numbers. He will use them, as well as his gut, in running his team. Remember, ownership has spent millions building an analytics department. Girardi may push back on some data-driven suggestions and go with his eyes and his gut at times, but he will consider all angles.
“Numbers tell a story over time, they really do,” Girardi said. “I'm an analytical guy that has an engineering degree, that loves the math, and they can never give me too much information. I think it's a tool that we use to assess players in so many different ways. Number one, how you get the best out of them? Number two, physically, are they healthy? I mean, there's so many things. Number three, can you change certain things that will make a player more successful? Those things all intrigue me. Those things I'm excited about. Because in reality, our job is to bring out the best in the player, and whatever tool we have to help us, I want.”
What about hustle?
It was an issue at times in 2019.
Girardi hustled as a player. It’s important to him as a skipper.
“There will be days when a player gets frustrated just like you and I when things don't go right,” Girardi said. “Kids get us up at 2 o'clock in the morning. There's frustration in our lives. You make an out, you miss a pitch, you slam a bat down and don't run as hard as you should. It looks bad. The perception is bad. To me, that's more about controlling your mind than a player not playing hard or being lazy. It's being able to control your emotions in those moments when things don't go your way. They're just adult tantrums. It's our job to help them not have those adult tantrums.”
The old catcher on his new catcher
With his brush cut, square jaw and catcher’s pedigree, Girardi reminds you a little of J.T Realmuto. No catcher in baseball carried a heavier load in 2019 than Realmuto. He ended up needing a day off during the final important weeks of the season and had surgery to fix a cartilage problem in his knee after that. Girardi needs to manage Realmuto’s workload in 2020.
“I want him healthy in October," Girardi said. "I think you can overwork any player. Days off are important to all players. Rule of thumb for a catcher is 120, 130 games. You think about 120 games. That’s catching three out of every four games. That’s a lot of games.
"I want the guy healthy in October because that’s where the prize is."
OK, how far away is this club?
“It would have been interesting to see where they might have ended up if they could have kept that bullpen healthy, even remotely healthy,” Girardi said.
He went on to mention all the injuries the 2019 team suffered in other areas.
Obviously, Girardi wasn’t going to pronounce the 2020 Phillies as a World Series team on Day 1. He acknowledged the need for pitching and the need to get the most out of some of the pitchers already on board. In private, Girardi will spend a lot time talking about pitching upgrades with Klentak. You can bet the Phillies will call on Gerrit Cole, and on Stephen Strasburg if he becomes a free agent. Zack Wheeler will be on their list as well as Rick Porcello and Cole Hamels.
And who will lead the pitchers?
Girardi will have heavy say in who the new pitching coach is. Veteran big-league pitching coach and manager Bryan Price is getting a lot of buzz for the position. Larry Rothschild is also out there and Dave Lundquist and Rafael Chaves are in-house guys with strong reputations.
“The pitching coach has a tough job because there's so many pitchers that they deal with," Girardi said. “He has to know each one of them really well and they have to trust him and that's real important.”
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