If we should have learned any lesson in this great city, it’s to avoid prematurely judging the guys hired to run our sports teams. Most of us initially took Charlie Manuel for a bumpkin. Turns out he was wise enough to lead the Phils to a world title.
I laughed aloud when a caller to my WIP radio show predicted the Eagles would hire Doug Pederson in 2016. Well, thanks to Doug, I’m still brushing Super Bowl parade confetti out of my hair.
Dave Hakstol struck me as a department store mannequin. Now the Flyers are the hottest team in the NHL and. . . well, I’m still not sold on that head coach. But that’s for another column.
Enter Gabe Kapler. The rookie Phils manager quickly, through his oddball statements and quirky philosophies, alienated local old-fart columnists and radio hosts (both clubs of which I am a proud member).
Kapler opened Spring Training by telling players to toss their alarm clocks and arrive for work when they felt like it. I promise you this never happened under Larry Bowa.
Last weekend, he started a team-wide social media challenge. Kapler paired higher-visibility players with more obscure ones, attempting to gain Instagram followers for the young guys. Old School sorts clucked at the camaraderie-building effort and then asked, “What the hell is Instagram?”
But the point is, the Phils didn’t hire Kapler to communicate with balding, middle-aged critics. They hired him to reach the next generation of players, who appear poised to lift this franchise out of its torpor.
Can he do it? I don’t know. You don’t either. But I can’t fault Phillies ownership for seeking a new direction.
It’s already clear Kapler’s players are drawn to his enthusiasm.
“It’s his energy,” Hoskins told my colleague Leslie Gudel the other day. “Every manager I’ve had, for the most part – not that they don’t have energy, but it’s a different kind he brings. It’s so persistent. Every day, every moment. To have that constant energy through a 162-game season and beyond will be huge.”
Likewise, pitcher Vince Velasquez, who’s aiming to avoid perennial struggles with control and injuries, said, “It’s amazing how much he brings to the clubhouse and just how alive it is right now.”
Velasquez was awed when Kapler, 42, joined players in the Clearwater weight room and out-lifted nearly all of them, hoisting four large plates. The closest Charlie Manuel ever got to four large plates was in the team dining room.
Of course none of the Adonis-meets-Energizer-Bunny stuff will amount to anything if Kapler can’t get results. If Vinny V continues to brainlessly labor through five innings, no will care if the manager draws gasps during the workouts.
At minimum, these Phils will be intriguing. The team should open the season with 13 players who weren’t on last year’s Opening Day roster. Youngsters like Rhys Hoskins, J.P Crawford and Jorge Alfaro have the chance to become stars. Perhaps Kapler will be able to pull more from underachievers Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Free agent first baseman Carlos Santana is there to draw walks and serve as everyone’s big brother.
The pitching staff? Well, if Kapler can spin gold from that collection of dross, he really could be the next Casey Stengel. Except much handsomer.
I’m eager to watch it unfold. You make your own judgment. Just one favor: Lay off the coconut oil jokes already, okay?