Pete Mackanin has been named the 53rd manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, after the team extended his contract through next season.
That is not a sentence I imagined I’d be writing before this season and started, but here we are. Anyone who knew Andy MacPhail from his time in Baltimore knows how patient and meticulous he is when it comes to making crucial decisions. However, when you look at this move high-level, it certainly does seem as though MacPhail rushed to lift the interim tag off of Mackanin. After all, the only experience Mackanin has at managing has come from an interim basis and MacPhail had just a half-season’s worth of games this season to make his judgement. As I wrote before, this offseason is not short in prime managerial candidates with plenty of experience; so why Mackanin? More importantly, why now? If you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize this may not have been a hurried decision at all.
MacPhail extended Mackanin through the 2016 season with an option for 2017. This is hardly the ringing endorsement that a three or four year extension would bring. If you remember, Ryne Sandberg was named the manager in 2013 and immediately signed a three year contract, seemingly making him the manager for the distant future. By locking up Mackanin for 2016 only, MacPhail and the eventual general manager will get a full season to study how he handles the media, communicates with the young core of prospects and goes about his day-to-day business as the official manager. This upcoming season cannot and will not be judged on wins and losses. If that were the case, Mackanin would be a dead man walking which would make the one year contract meaningless. The Phillies will lose nearly 100 games again next season no matter who’s steering the ship, so MacPhail is going to need an entire year to study the intangibles that Mackanin can or cannot bring to a young and inexperienced roster. However, let’s not completely discredit the second half of this season and the job Mackanin has done that earned him a shot at becoming the long-term solution.
While the Phillies’ record under him has plummeted recently after a hot start post-All Star break, Mackanin has shown that he is well-respected by the team, the assistant coaches and the front office. He’s even showing some attributes that we haven’t seen since a certain beloved southern country bumpkin was manager. This quote from csnphilly.com should sound familiar:
“This game is easy to play when everything is going your way,” Mackanin said. “When you’re hitting and pitching and winning games, this is easy. Character comes out when you’re struggling. What kind of person you are. That’s what talked about with pitching, how we’re pushing to get out of jams. You cannot afford to pout or feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to play like a man.”
This came after Mackanin benched Odubel Herrera for tossing his bat in anger and not running out a pop fly. That move is so Manuel-esque that if I told you it came from Charlie, himself, you would probably believe me. Just like Manuel’s young core of the mid-2000’s, this team needs to learn how to lose before they learn how to win and how a group responds to adversity is imperative if that group wants to become great. Maybe MacPhail believes Mackanin can instill that value into the present and future prospects just as Manuel had done before him; something Sandberg had failed to accomplish for a multitude of reasons.
It is hard to gauge whether or not Mackanin will be the right man for the job. The fans, the team and the front office are all playing the wait-and-see game together. But what seems to be a good decision is the hiring, itself. MacPhail has given himself and his colleagues enough time to process everything they will need to make the right decision. Will the young players continue to respond positively to Mackanin’s managerial style and progress their career arcs as expected? Or will they shut off mid-season and play with the lack of energy that became evident at the back-end of Sandberg’s regime? The latter would open the door for a new managerial candidate, whom MacPhail will undoubtedly perform strong due diligence on (Mike Scioscia, I’m looking at you). Whatever happens, this much is clear: patience is a virtue.