The struggling Philadelphia Phillies baseball club stunned the fan base on Tuesday with the announcement that hitting coach John Mallee had been released, and that he would be replaced by popular former manager Charlie Manuel.
The stunning part wasn’t that Mallee was let go. The Phillies offense has struggled to find any consistency in parts of two seasons with the team since his hiring in November 2017.
Offensively, the Phillies rank just 19th among the 30 teams in Major League Baseball in runs scored per game this year. They are only 22nd in hits and OPS, 23rd in home runs, 17th in stolen bases.
After changing half the starting lineup from a year ago, bringing in stars like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, it was expected that the offense would be the least worrisome part of the 2019 team.
More surprising was that the 75-year-old Manuel would be taking his place, albeit on what is likely to be an interim basis. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said that this was a move which was not likely to extend beyond the balance of the 2019 campaign.
The move is certainly one that was, at least in some measure, calculated to inject enthusiasm into a fan base that was beginning to turn on the team. The Phillies have gone just 28-36 since their season high-water mark at 11 games over .500 on May 29. They had lost seven of their last 10 prior to Tuesday night.
With the Philadelphia Eagles preseason now underway and the NFL season set to begin in just three weeks, the Phillies were in danger of completely losing a large portion of their fans attention.
Manuel is the extremely popular former manager who led the Phillies to a 2008 World Series crown, back-to-back National League pennants, and five consecutive NL East titles. He compiled a 780-636 record as skipper from 2005 into the 2013 season, and has now been enshrined on the Wall of Fame.
What do the Phillies hope to gain from the change from Mallee to Manuel? The general manager seems to believe that it is more about how the message is being communicated to the hitters, rather than some major shift in philosophy.
“I understand that there’s kind of a simplistic viewpoint here that we are shifting from new school to old school,” said Klentak. “But it’s really not that simple. I think the messenger is changing, but I think the message will be largely the same.”
In the short-term, Manuel’s easy-going attitude, down-home demeanor, and positive messaging along with his hitting philosophy of attacking the pitcher aggressively should help some the rest of the way.
While that is important – no one wants to throw in the towel on 2019 – more influential for the longer run will be who ends up getting the job for the 2020 season and beyond. Will the organizational philosophy change if results do not improve? And, will it be Klentak who is doing that hiring?
Kevin Cooney of The Philly Voice did an excellent job yesterday of breaking down the questions and answers, and the politics within the organization, surrounding this decision.
“Given what the tone of the conversation was over the past few months and the words of patience that came out of both Klentak and MacPhail’s mouth on various topics, it certainly doesn’t feel like a stretch to believe that this move had (John) Middleton’s fingerprints all over it.“
Klentak noted that both MacPhail and principle owner John Middleton were involved in the decision to make this change.
“Look, any time we make a big organizational decision, we’re very collaborative about that,” Klentak said per Matt Gelb with The Athletic. “So, John definitely was aware of this, involved in this — as he has been for a lot of decisions we’ve made. Andy MacPhail as well. But when we made these big decisions, they are done with a collaborative approach and a kind of united front. John was involved.”
As I have written prior to this, the Phillies overall failures can be traced all the way up the chain to Andy MacPhail. He is the president of baseball operations. The buck stops with him. As long as MacPhail remains, there is no reason to believe based on the man’s track record that this organization will become a consistent long-term winner.
We have to hope that the injection of enthusiasm from Charlie Manuel helps the Phillies in the short-term. The fans are certainly happy to have him back. I’m personally happy to see him back doing what he does best, teaching and talking about hitting.
Middleton, as the owner who has spent nearly a half-billion dollars in upgrading his offensive personnel, is going to have to take a hard look this coming fall and winter at the people he has directing the organization at higher levels if he wants his baseball team to become a big, consistent winner.