Philadelphia sports have been inextricably tied to blue-collar work since time immemorial. The fans are rough and tough, and don’t take crap from anybody, they’ll tell you. They expect those who represent Philly sports to be the same. That’s why every athlete who has shown any kind of vulnerability or “softness” has been ostracized at one point or another: Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Cole Hamels, Donovan McNabb, just to name a few. Gritty, stoic players whose only expression of emotion is anger/frustration are beloved in Philadelphia. See: Chase Utley, Lenny Dykstra, Brian Dawkins.
As the Phillies went deeper and deeper into their second-half slide this season — they are 6-17 in September — a noticeable contingent of fans kept calling for rookie manager Gabe Kapler to fire up his team with a post-loss temper tantrum involving table-flipping, or an in-game tantrum arguing a call with an umpire. Kapler is the definition of “cool, calm, and collected,” as he hardly ever even raises his voice when debating a ruling with an umpire. It doesn’t seem to be in Kapler’s nature to get angry, but the calls for a tantrum became more and more frequent as the Phillies’ chances of making the postseason disappeared.
Matt Gelb of The Athletic did some digging and found that a Phillies player hasn’t been ejected in more than three years. No Phillies — player, manager, coach — have been ejected this year. While ejections have steadily been going down across the league year-by-year with further implementation of replay review, it’s not enough to explain why the Phillies are such an outlier.
Discussing an incident earlier this month where he had a heated discussion with a home plate umpire, Kapler said, “They didn’t throw me out and I thought maybe they were probably justified in throwing me out at that point. But I thought they let me say my piece, and at that point, it would’ve been really contrived to go further.”
That explanation is Kapler in a nutshell. He wants to have a reason for doing something and getting tossed for the sake of getting tossed isn’t a good enough reason. Phillies fans aren’t buying it. 94WIP, a well-known radio station in Philly, ran a poll this morning asking fans if they want Kapler back with the Phillies next season. Of over 6,300 respondents as of this writing, only 40 percent said yes and 60 percent said no. Obvious caveats: that poll isn’t scientific and is biased by the type of fan who listens to WIP, follows them on Twitter, and would vote in one of their polls.
Phillies fans are pining for an antiquated style of managing. Terry Francona, at the helm of the AL Central champion Indians, hasn’t been ejected at all this year. Alex Cora, rookie manager of the 107-win Red Sox, has been ejected exactly once this season. A.J. Hinch of the defending World Series champion Astros has been tossed twice. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, once. These teams would be just as successful if their managers had never been ejected as opposed to once or twice. To suggest that the Phillies simply needed to be fired up by a hot-headed manager is to ignore the team’s significantly more glaring issues: historically bad defense, a lack of defined roles for many players (Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford particularly), a young bullpen, inconsistent starting pitching behind Aaron Nola. The list goes on.
Baseball is also a different game now than it was even a decade ago. There are fewer opportunities for players, coaches, and managers to get ejected due to replay review. What once was a controversial call with two opposing and unrectifiable viewpoints is now a call easily fixed with incontrovertible evidence. Players and managers don’t need to plead their case anymore; they simply issue a challenge.
Kapler and his even-keeled demeanor will be unfairly maligned because of the Phillies’ sequencing of losses. They started the season 1-4 with Kapler making some embarrassing rookie mistakes. The Phillies’ solid summer will be bookended by that and their September skid. Kapler’s reputation is spoiled by his first impression and recency bias. In reality, the Phillies were always a .500-caliber club in terms of talent and will finish around there — they’re 78-79 with five games remaining. Few expected the Phillies to seriously challenge for first place in the NL East. If anything, their persistence until the last few weeks despite their very obvious and significant flaws is a testament to Kapler. But, as Philly fans are wont to do, they got their expectations unreasonably high and then were disappointed when those expectations weren’t met. So they quickly searched for reasons to dislike the man in charge. Shifts. Bullpen usage. Lack of ejections.
Once upon a time, the city of Philadelphia didn’t like Charlie Manuel. Now he’s a hero on the Phillies’ Wall of Fame. A little bit of patience goes a long way sometimes.