Gabe Kapler is intense.
That was the biggest takeaway I had of the new Phillies manager following his fascinating press conference with general manager Matt Klentak on Thursday. First impressions can often times mean a lot, and what is most noticeable about Kapler is his enthusiasm and intensity.
He makes you want to run into a burning house for him. There is value in that.
Kapler also came across as an extremely well spoken and smart guy. He even invoked a phrase uttered by his boss, John Middleton, to first baseman Ryan Howard in the Yankee Stadium locker room minutes after the Phils lost the 2009 World Series.
"Bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton.”
That is his mandate, and we all want that f’n trophy back, too. Kapler was smart to mention one of the most beloved figures in franchise history at his introductory presser, the Silver Fox himself.
"I was lucky enough to get to know Chase Utley in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse,” Kapler said. “It was unbelievable how much intensity he prepared for the game with, and during the game how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.
"We’re going to play with the same level of intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare so that we've thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We will care deeply about winning and we will be ultra-competitive."
Kapler appears to be a self-aware man who knows all too well his intense nature. That’s why he said he doesn’t want seven more Kaplers running around the dugout every game.
"I believe in building diversity," Kapler said. "I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience and I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."
But intensity did ooze from behind the brand new No. 22 jersey he slipped on over his suit on Thursday, and one has to wonder how that intensity will play out if the Phils embark on a month of baseball that sees them win six games in a 30-day span, like we saw last May.
Will he maintain a positive energy with his players in the midst of tough times? Or will he become Larry Bowa 2.0, who was so tightly wound that it rubbed many of his players the wrong way?
As Jon Heyman noted in his piece for FanRag Sports Thursday, Kapler is not without his detractors and enemies. But the motivations behind those critics could be varied and have a number of axes to grind. There’s no way to know how much of it is real and how much is manufactured.
The Phillies are taking a huge gamble with Kapler. There were other candidates they could have selected that would have generated no controversy. But if the Phils are going to make a mistake, it’s better they make them running 100 mph into a brick wall. It’s better they make them out of aggression, not complacency. The Phils were unafraid to think outside the box and roll the dice on Kapler, and that’s something that should be applauded.
On Episode 161 of The Felske Files, the great Jayson Stark, formerly of ESPN, still one of the most plugged-in national reporters in the biz, offers his take on the hire, as well as the risks and rewards that go along with making Kapler the team’s field manager for this ultra-important 2018 season and beyond.
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