For Many Phillies Fans, It Feels a Bit Personal When it Comes to Gabe Kapler

PHOTO CREDIT: BILL STREICHER-USA TODAY SPORTS

The Phillies’ season came to an unceremonious conclusion on Sunday afternoon with a quiet 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins. It was a relevant outcome in only that it prevented the franchise from claiming its 82nd win, and, in turn, the meaningless distinction of its first winning season in eight years.

The 2019 Phillies often did not hit the way they were supposed to hit. They often did not pitch the way they were supposed to pitch. Key players often got hurt. These three truths have led many fans and observers of the team to arrive at the singular conclusion that the thing to do now — really, the only thing to do now — is fire the manager.

And so we wait.

If you have read this site over the past few months, you already know I’m of the opinion that Gabe Kapler’s dismissal is unwarranted. I’m not looking to bring a take to the table, and I’m not looking to play the contrarian. I simply don’t think he deserves to lose his job based on the circumstances of this past season. Last week, I compared him to a hamstrung real estate agent tasked with selling a structurally-flawed home.

Included in that defense was this acknowledgment:

To be clear, this reasoning does not wholly excuse Kapler for his failure to get the Phillies to rip off the type of prolonged winning streaks that even far worse clubs achieved this season. It doesn’t excuse his occasional strategic missteps, or some of the decisions I’m sure he would like to have back, either.

That is to say if Kapler is ultimately dismissed this week, it’s not as if it would be some great injustice. I just happen to believe he deserves another crack at it with this core group and an upgraded pitching staff.

Beyond the uncertainty of Kapler’s fate, what I have found most interesting in recent weeks as the Phillies’ season limped to its conclusion is how many fans and observers of the team have reacted to the manager’s potential dismissal. It’s been a cocktail of disdain, vindication, and excitement.

The many people that want him out of here say that it’s nothing personal. They say it’s just about results. After all, the results are what matter most, right?

I’m not so sure about that.

Scroll through the tweets, read the Facebook comments on any recent Phillies story, listen to sports talk radio. Hell, go old school and strike up a baseball conversation at the bar with the dude sitting next to you.  Invariably, you’re going to read or hear about Kapler paired with one of the following words or phrases:

  • “coconut oil”
  • “too positive”
  • “pretty boy”
  • “computers/analytics/data”

It feels like the distaste for Kapler goes beyond baseball. It feels, I don’t know, a bit personal, doesn’t it?

Sure, an occasional strategic complaint about how he mismanaged a bullpen composed mostly of castoffs and minor league stopgaps gets mixed in there, I guess. Maybe some annoyance sporadically pops up about how he had the audacity to move his cleanup hitter to the leadoff spot after a hideous multi-week stretch in which the only skills of said cleanup hitter that didn’t entirely erode were his pitch selection and ability to work a walk.

The concerns about clubhouse culture and accountability are worth noting, and it’s entirely possible that perhaps a more stringent approach is needed, but isn’t that a difficult conclusion to arrive at in the absence of a major league-caliber pitching staff?

Other than that, the complaints are rarely constructed around baseball or the realities of what caused the Phillies’ season to fall short — eight games short — of the considerable expectations placed upon it. If this were truly about just baseball, then #firekapler wouldn’t be all the rage today and the focus would be where it should be–on finding ways to markedly upgrade a roster that finished fourth in the division and 16 games out of first-place.

In fact, if this were truly about baseball or centered in understanding context, then the conversation would be focused on that bullpen, injuries, the lack of organizational depth that became glaringly apparent in light of those injuries, and a razor-thin bench. It would be less, much less, about his relentlessly positive nature or press conferences.

The conversation would include considerable dialogue about a starting rotation that wasn’t good enough from the start, one that was also never adequately upgraded once those flaws became obvious. The inconvenient truth that the team still managed to outperform its win-loss expectancy by six games over the past two seasons, which, historically speaking, is an indication that a manager is actually maximizing what he has at his disposal, wouldn’t be so quickly dismissed, either.

So I ask, why is it so quickly dismissed?

Perhaps it’s the ice cream story, or maybe the anti-Kapler movement is a resistance reaction to the decreasingly entertaining product baseball has become as analytical approaches have gained prominence. Is that why the word “analytics” seems to evoke facial contortions and grunts around here?

Maybe it’s because he didn’t validate the fans’ frustrations by telling you a player wasn’t good enough when it was obvious a player wasn’t good enough. I don’t know.

Ultimately, if you don’t think that Kapler is the guy, that’s fine, but make sure you’re drawing a distinction between the tactical maneuvers and the personality. And if he is fired, make sure you’re not celebrating his dismissal simply because he’s the on-field representation of an organizational philosophy that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Absent of far more meaningful changes, it will be a short-lived celebration, I can assure you of that.

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11 Responses

  1. Biggest issue which you fail to mention is the lack of hustle and effort by most of his players, especially Cesar H, Segura, Franco, and Kapler’s insistence that the players bust it all of the time. His “puppies and unicorns” dialogue after every game is a direct insult on the intelligence of the fan base. Most of us can tolerate the analytics, but when he tells us things are one way when our eyes or the television shows they are not makes us question his integrity. If the media that likes him don’t get this, then lets go another year of mediocrity.

  2. There’s nothing personal about poor bullpen management, overvaluation of players like Sean Rodriguez and Brad Miller (his too little, too late September hot streak notwithstanding), bad situational decisions (wrong pinch hitter in key spots, deciding to pitch to guys at times when they should be intentionally walked), and what seems like a generally below par feel for the game.

  3. Myth: Poor Gabe Kapler never had any talent
    Reality: Harper, Segura, Realmuto, McCucthen added. Kingery Major league ready this year. That’s six pieces of an eight person lineup added, plus hoskins, for the halfwit to work with, almost all had down years.

    Myth: The players love playing for poor Gabe Kapler!
    Reality: Lack of hustle throughout the season from many players says otherwise. Actions speak louder than words.

    Myth: Who are you going to get that could do better? You think anyone is better than poor Gabe Kapler?
    Reality: perhaps the most flawed argument in all of sports is the “whoyougonnagetthatsbetter” nonsense that imbeciles like the “expert” author of this so called article will throw at the wall.

    This is the flawed line of thinking that many chip bots spewed in 2015, trying to justify Chip Kelly should have been retained because of two hollow 10-6 seasons. Or even back when the entire national media would wag their fingers at Philadelphia for wanting Andy Reid to go.

    A lot of times, a team benefits from a fresh voice.

    It’s time to bid happy trails to poor Gabe Kapler.

  4. It’s easy to make the excuse that they did not have the pitching but you just can’t discount that Kapler managed a team that mirrored the same exact results between two back to back seasons. Strong starts, collapses that he could not help stop at the end of the year. With a lot of different players as well. I buy most into the argument you see out there that who the Manager is does not make that much of a difference other than a good versus bad Manager can mean maybe 5 to 7 more wins per year. Well 5 to 7 more wins this year may have made a difference in Kapler getting a third year.

  5. How about the fact the this team went into an absolute free fall in September in the two years that Gabe was the manager?? The fact the both of his teams got worse as the year went on? The fact that Gabe had blind love for both S Rod and the Knapper when both players are at best Double A players?? The fact the Gabe’s post game love-fests telling us how hard the guys battled on the field and the never say die attitude of his guys as us fans are watching them roll over & die as they getting their asses kicked night after night.

    I completely agree with you that this organization’s problems start at the top, and that everybody in the front office from the president on down needs to go, and that Gabe could only work with what he was given, but to defend Gabe because in your opinion there is personal hatred of the man by the fan base just boggles my mind.

    Results matter – and this team has not gotten it done, and shown ZERO improvement, over Gabe’s two years.

  6. So I’m no Kapler defender, but it’s hard to say that most of the mainstays of the lineup had down years. Realmuto, Kingery, and Mccutchin had better than expected years. Even Harper had a slightly better than average year. Segura and Hoskins had down but not awful years. That seems to be better than average. The bullpen was surprisingly decent given how bad the pitchers actually are. The problem was either overevaluation of the starting rotation or inability to help maximize their talent (or possibly both).

  7. He’s toast, when Charlie headed to the dugout you knew he was done. Charlie was there to evaluate the players because you can’t get a fair assessment out of sunshine. Get your head outta your ass Wankel, stop with the man crush.

  8. What changed my mind on Kapler was the night the Mets hit Bryce Harper’s hand. Kapler has a no-retaliation policy, so of course the Mets continued to pitch in on our guys. Not long after, Jean Segura nearly had his head taken off.

  9. Has any baseball manager deserved to be fired in your estimation Wanks? The injury excuses only carry so much water when you can see night in, night out that you’ve got guys like Harper and Realmuto acting like self-starters doing everything they can to will the team to wins, and then you’ve got guys like Segura giving up on live balls settling for singles, bullpen misshaps, simply bizarre substitutions like Roman Quinn pitching more than once, VV playing left field before the 16th inning, Arrieta running his mouth despite stinking on ice. Like what the hell has this dude done to suggest he’s maximizing anything with this team?

    These guys sit on first pitch strikes, they’re clueless about situational hitting, they barely attempt steals. Nobody’s ever accountable. Excuse the blame from Gabe saying some b/s about “players gotta play” or whatever, but why hasn’t Chris Young been shit-canned? How’re you gonna play Sean Rodriguez, the poster boy for “even I can do that” spectators around the area, the night after he shits on the fans?

    For real, I’m dying to know what Gabe has done that makes him deserve another run? Somebody new can’t be worse, and somebody new might just bring a message the players need to hear.

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