That’s how you do a news conference.
Only 17 days after team owner John Middleton dominated a lengthy and often uninspiring 57-minute session with the media in the wake of former manager Gabe Kapler’s firing, the Phillies introduced new skipper Joe Girardi this afternoon at Pass and Stow, the sports pub located near the third base gate of Citizens Bank Park.
I’m not sure that it could have gone much better than it did.
General manager Matt Klentak, who was notably not flanked by his superiors this time around, briefly explained the team’s hiring process before turning things over to Girardi. Here were some of my takeaways from today’s event.
Girardi Can Handle the Media
Girardi left an excellent first impression during today’s session. He went through the obligatory compliments about the city, the fans’ passion, etc., which is typically a good starting point. He talked about getting his first hit and throwing out his first baserunner against the Phillies, as well as his ties to franchise icons like Larry Bowa, Sarge Matthews, and John Vukovich.
He also told a funny anecdote about his wife stepping on a fan’s hand during a date in 1986 at Wrigley Field to snatch a home run ball hit by a Phillies player:
I fast-forward to 1986. My lovely wife and I were just starting to date, and I went and watched the Phillies play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. And she got a home run ball hit by a Phillie player, and we were in the bleachers, and it was before it was cool to sit in the bleachers. Someone else went to get the ball and she stepped on his hand, reached and grabbed the ball. And I said, “Babe!” And she’s like, “Well, I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to get to get to a big league baseball.”
He also told this story about getting Ryan Howard to autograph a ball for his son when he was the Marlins’ manager in 2006:
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) October 28, 2019
Girardi is a “Philly Guy”
Well, not exactly–but it’s pretty obvious that he fits what this city’s fans want in a baseball manager.
“I’m selfish. I want to win, and that’s why I came here,” he said.
He’s a straight-shooter that “gets it.” No talk of hard hats or lunch pails, but I thought this was probably his best answer of the day:
I’m a manager who really cares. I care about people. I understand the importance of baseball to so many different people that are involved in this, whether it’s the ownership, whether it’s the front office, whether it’s the vendor that is working in the stands, or the ticket-taker, or the security guy. Whether it’s the people who sit down every night at seven o’ clock to tune into what is basically a soap opera. And I really started to learn the importance of us in someone’s living room every night from my family. My mom was the youngest of 15, and a lot of their family were farmers, and they would look forward to every day being in the tractor and turning on the radio and listening to a game. And you understand how important you are to so many people’s lives.
I don’t think this was lip service, either. He seemed like a genuine guy up there, and I think this will be a good fit from a personality standpoint.
Analytics won’t be going anywhere with “Binder Joe,” who noted he believes “numbers tell the story over time.” Girardi said he also believes analytics are a tool that can optimize both player health and performance, one that he plans to use liberally to bring out the best in his players.
In terms of how he plans to implement the findings of the team’s research and development department, I thought this was maybe the one part the session Girardi could’ve been a little bit better on. He didn’t really get into specifics, only speaking in generalities.
“So players need as much information as they can handle–that helps them perform their job to their best, and we’ll continue to talk about ways to disseminate it,” he said. “As far as who sits in on meetings, I’m open to that. I haven’t done it yet, so it’s hard for me to tell exactly how it’s gonna happen, but I want it just to work to the greatest ability, and with all the information that we have, to be able to give it to the players how they understand it the best.”
For me, this was an important question to answer after a season in which it became clear that some players felt overwhelmed or frustrated with the presentation of such data. Obviously, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan in place, or that these conversation won’t effectively occur, but I remain curious as to how the Phillies will implement their analytics at the field-level.
Girardi Was Hired to Help the Phillies Find an Identity
Klentak told reporters the team’s search for its new manager came down to three candidates (Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter, and Girardi) and that experience was a key factor in the search. Girardi emerged the winner after a second interview that included discussions with 25 different members of the Phillies organization, according to Klentak.
The general manager was also asked about the team bucking a recent league trend that has seen several clubs hire inexperienced or first-time managers.
“Where you are as an organization will dictate the type of leadership [it needs],” Klentak said.
I think it’s pretty obvious that the Phillies believe Girardi can help develop an identity and a certain amount of maturity the team may have lacked over the past two seasons. Klentak later noted that “it is time to win,” and it’s clear they feel this hire gives them the best chance of that finally happening and in quick order.
Don’t Expect to See Rhys Hoskins Traded this Winter
When a team doesn’t win and one of its most prominent players struggles, it’s going to lead to natural speculation about that player’s future. That’s why there has been some talk about perhaps the Phillies including Rhys Hoskins in a trade this winter that drastically alters the makeup of the team. Never say never, I guess, but that doesn’t appear to be part of the plan. Hoskins and his fiancée, who are getting married next month, were in attendance today. Hoskins was made available by the Phillies for questions about Girardi’s hire. I think that’s a pretty good indication that the team’s front office has no plans to move on from the first baseman.
On Clubhouse Discipline
Girardi disclosed a rather direct set of clubhouse initiatives he plans to implement. Among them:
- Be on time
- Be prepared
- Be accountable
- Be focused on winning
“I was a player, and we got memos, right? And I knew what happened to those memos a lot of times, so they will be reminded, they will be held accountable to the coaches,” he said.
Contrary to popular belief, the Phillies’ clubhouse wasn’t some wild mess last season, but my guess is that there’s going to be a more businesslike approach in the room this upcoming season.
The expectations are clear.
The Phillies intend to make the postseason in 2020. In order for that to happen, Girardi believes it starts with a healthy bullpen. He noted that he did multiple Phillies games in the broadcast booth at different points throughout the season, and there was a “different cast of characters” each time.
In terms of the starting rotation, he expressed some optimism. “There’s starters here that I believe have a lot of ability,” he said.
Maybe, but I would still expect at least two new additions to that group this winter.
So there you have it. Welcome, Joe.