The line of questioning turned to the always uncomfortable subject of job security and even though Pete Mackanin’s contract was extended through next season in May, he said he was not positive he would return as the Phillies manager in 2018.
“Of course I’m signed through next year and I assume I’ll be here, but you never know what they’re going to do,” Mackanin said before Monday night’s game against the Washington Nationals. “So you just keep moving on.”
There was a time this season when it seemed possible, even probable, that Mackanin would not be around beyond 2017. He was foolishly made to squirm a little through spring training when general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail declined to announce a contract extension, and then the issue was awkwardly rectified on May 11 with the Phillies in the midst of a monstrous tailspin.
“Pete is the manager and there is no time frame on that, this is not a temporary thing,” Klentak said at the time. “Pete’s the manager and I have every hope and every confidence that he will be as we turn this around and the wins start coming.”
That, however, did not immediately happen. The Phillies had lost 10 of their previous 12 games when the contract extension was announced and they proceeded to go 17-41 in their next 58 games. One hundred losses were well within reach and there were more than a few rumblings around the ballpark that Mackanin might be paid not to work in 2018.
“I don’t think he panicked when we started off the way we did,” Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr said. “He stayed the course because he knows we have talented guys on the team and eventually we’d start playing a little better. And then when the young guys started coming up and doing as well as they did, it definitely helped us as a team to get energized and play with a little more fire.”
Mackanin, 66, has proved to be a players’ manager in his two-plus seasons with the Phillies. He was aware when he replaced Ryne Sandberg in the middle of the 2015 season that the Phillies were in the embryonic stages of a rebuilding project and he has mostly exercised the patience required in such difficult times.
Patience can sometimes be misconstrued as being soft, but Mackanin picked his spots when he felt a firmer hand was necessary.
“Pete is pretty laid back and for the most part he lets us do our thing,” Altherr said. “We have a laid-back atmosphere in here and there is not too much pressure. But obviously when he doesn’t think we’re playing with enough energy, he’ll get into us.”
Mackanin’s most demonstrative display came near the end of May after his contract had been extended through next season. The Phillies had just suffered a lifeless loss to the Cincinnati Reds, and Mackanin watched his team put up one hit in eight innings against the underwhelming Tim Adleman.
“He got the sense we didn’t have much energy, so he got into us pretty good,” Altherr said.
Mackanin’s decibel level was loud enough to grab the attention of his coaching staff.
“I only had three team meetings all year, but one of them the coaches came in afterward asking if I was all right,” Mackanin said. “I just let it out, which I think needs to be done. I just went down the list of players. I pointed out all the good things they had done to get here and with the veterans the things they had done in the past.
“I basically asked … after that, how come we’re so bad? How do we have such a bad record with all you guys who can do so many things? That was the gist of it. So I tried to keep it positive at the end, but it wasn’t so positive during.”
Eventually things did turn some. The Phillies have played decent baseball in the last six weeks and Rhys Hoskins’ arrival created a burst of energy for the entire clubhouse. Still, the Phillies will end the season with a worse record this year than last year and that’s never good for the manager’s job security.
Mackanin, after 49 years in the game, believes he knows the truth about it all and it has nothing to do with patience for or prodding of players.
“It always seems to boil down to: Do you need better coaches? Do you need a better manager? Mackanin said. “The answer to all these questions is you need better players.”
With the addition of Hoskins, the emergence of Nick Williams and Altherr and the late-season arrivals of shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies have the nucleus for their future in place. Mackanin, with the job he has done this season, has earned the right to continue to be part of the rebuilding project.
More pressure will be on him to win in 2018, so it will be more important than ever for the players to know that Mackanin is perceived by the front office as the long-term solution at manager. It would be wise and worthwhile in that regard for Klentak and MacPhail to make sure Mackanin’s next contract extension comes before the start of next season. In fact, it would not be a bad idea to announce it before the end of this one.