I feel bad for Pete Mackanin. After more than two years at the helm of the going-nowhere, head-against-the-wall rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies, he has been reassigned to an as-yet undetermined position in the front office as an adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will not be the team’s manager in 2018, despite having signed a contract four months ago to do just that.
Mackanin will not hit the unemployment line, and he will still be in baseball, which puts him in a better position that most people who are fired from their jobs. But he will not be the field general for a Phils team that appears to be awakening from the doldrums of the last few years.
He will not see this rebuilding project through as the team’s skipper, despite a second half in which, after their 6-2 defeat of the New York Mets on Friday night, the team is just one game under .500 (36-37).
It’s not fair. As Klentak noted in his press conference announcing Mackanin’s reassignment, the team has “turned a corner,” which one can only assume means they believe the team is good enough to start competing for something other than the No. 1 overall pick. Mack has shepherded the team through the lean years and now, just as things are turning around, he was told by his boss that he’s not the guy to lead the team into the future.
It’s not fair. It really isn’t. But it is the right call.
Mackanin is not a bad manager, not by any stretch. The win-loss record may look ugly, but much of it wasn’t his fault. What is Mackanin’s “fault” is that he is a traditional manager getting ready to take over a team full of young prospects, in an organization that is leaning towards analytics more and more every day. Speaking to reporters before Friday’s game, Klentak noted the need for a “new voice” to lead a younger clubhouse.
"I think now with the way the rebuild is unfolding and the way that some of our young players are graduating to the big leagues and the way that the outlook is shaping up, a new voice in the dugout and a new style is necessary," Klentak said. "It has nothing to do with me not liking Pete or being disappointed in him."
It’s a nebulous comment without any real definition. On the subject of why they felt Mackanin wasn’t the right choice to lead the team moving forward, Klentak was harder to pin down than a bar of soap in the bathtub.
Perhaps Klentak couldn’t really put their finger on why Mackanin doesn’t measure up. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of Klentak and the front office having someone already in mind. Perhaps they simply want to have a manager of their own choosing in that seat.
We’ll probably never know exactly why the Phillies decided the locker room needed a new voice, which is a surprising statement in and of itself, considering Mackanin’s biggest strength was considered to be his ability to communicate with his players.
Mackanin isn’t a “bad” manager, and he deserves a shot somewhere else at some point. It’s hard to point to any one thing he did especially wrong. Nothing egregious sticks out. It’s likely there were a number of little things that added up, and perhaps there were behind-the-scenes issues or disagreements that couldn’t be worked out.
But he is an old-school, traditional manger, prone to managing from “The Big Book Of Managing.” Mackanin favors his veterans, which is why Freddy Galvis is still in the two-hole in the lineup and why Cameron Rupp played over Jorge Alfaro when Alfaro first arrived.
It’s why he refuses to pitch his closer in a tie game on the road, and why higher on-base guys are still hitting lower in the lineup than lower on-base guys. And his bullpen usage was, at times, questionable, although to be fair, many of the arms he had to work with were substandard.
The bottom line is the stakes are too high to take a chance on a manager you’re not 100% on board with, and it’s clear that was the case with the Phillies and Pete Mackanin.
On this special bonus episode of The Felske Files, Episode 154, host John Stolnis breaks down some of the more interesting questions and answers at Klentak and Mackanin’s press conference, and takes a look at some of the possible candidates who could replace Mackanin as the team’s skipper.
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