The Philadelphia Phillies spent more than four weeks culling opinions and ideas from around the baseball world about what their future dugout leader should embody in an era when front offices wield more influence over field managers than ever before.
It led them to a 42-year-old farm director who epitomizes modern baseball.
Gabe Kapler will become the next Phillies manager, the team confirmed on Monday. Kapler will be introduced at a news conference after the World Series ends.
“I’m equal parts honored, humbled and excited by the opportunity with the Phillies, an elite franchise in a city rich in history, tradition, sports excellence and with amazingly passionate fans,” Kapler said in a statement. “I believe there is no better place to build a winning environment, and I take that task very seriously.”
The former outfielder, known as a workout freak during his playing career who created his own healthy-lifestyle website afterward, has guided the Dodgers minor-league system for the last three seasons. His combination of playing and front-office experience, with a deep appreciation for analytics, convinced the Phillies to hire an unconventional outside perspective.
But in the current baseball climate, Kapler’s ascension is logical. The Phillies believe he can be the proper conduit between a data-driven front office and young clubhouse. Kapler can espouse virtues based both in numbers and his experiences.
“Gabe has a track record of leadership, winning, progressive thinking and working with young players, and we fully believe that he is the right person to guide this organization into the future,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
It’s an audacious hire, one that pushes the Phillies to a progressive extreme the franchise has never occupied. The immediate test will be Kapler’s control of a clubhouse and his in-game tactics, given his scant experience in both areas. He has coached or managed for just one season, in 2007, at a low-level Boston affiliate. His hiring of a pitching coach will be critical.
Kapler will be the Phillies’ youngest manager since Terry Francona, who was 38 when he was hired before the 1997 season.
Picked over Wathan: The Phillies selected Kapler over Dusty Wathan, a more traditional option. Wathan, 44, managed in the Phillies’ minors for the last decade and possesses an intimate knowledge about much of the current roster. He could join Kapler’s staff as bench coach or third-base coach.
Kapler played parts of 12 major-league seasons with six teams and was on the field in 2004 as a late-game replacement when the Red Sox won a championship for the first time in 86 years. He played half a season in Japan. He retired, managed in the minors as a 31-year-old, then un-retired and played three more seasons in the majors.
The Phillies will entrust him to be the public face of a franchise with growing expectations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the baseball field from a lot of different angles,” Kapler told the New York Times in 2008. “From a highly touted prospect, to a 57th-round draft pick in the lowest of the minor leagues, from a starter to a bench player, I’ve run the gamut.”
No ties to organization: Kapler’s hire concluded a lengthy process in which the Phillies trimmed a list of dozens to about 10 who earned interviews. The team considered pitching coaches, former managers, ex-players with no managerial experience, and a few unknowns.
The Phillies’ last three managers — Pete Mackanin, Ryne Sandberg, and Charlie Manuel — were all internal hires. Kapler is the first since Francona to arrive with zero ties to the organization.
He has 39,000 followers on Twitter. He has written for Baseball Prospectus, the industry’s analytics hub. He worked in player development for Tampa Bay after his career ended. He became an analyst for Fox Sports. On his lifestyle website, filled with testimonials from current and retired players, he once wrote: “Writing strengthens humans.”
So does, in his mind, the search for new information. He will rely upon analytics to make dugout decisions.
“Teaching baseball players about new performance metrics is not the lesson here,” Kapler wrote in 2013. “Instead, the lesson is embracing education. Thinking that, because we play or played the game, we know the game best is a dangerous proposition.”
Kapler was a finalist in 2015 for the Dodgers job that went to Dave Roberts. He remained in Los Angeles’ front office as the club built a pennant winner. Now, the chance to manage has carried him to Philadelphia.