At his introductory news conference as the Phillies’ manager Thursday, Gabe Kapler wore the toasty glow of a man who, as he has blogged, favors the anti-aging and moisturizing powers of coconut oil. His skin had the sheen of a Hollywood head shot and the shade of a mocha latte. To anyone who had visited his website, Kaplifestyle.com; caught him on Fox Sports; or seen one of several photos of him posing shirtless; his physical appearance was not a surprise. His thoughts on other non-baseball matters shouldn’t have been, either.
Such as Steven Spielberg. Or eating chicken bones. Or the multifaceted uses of coconut oil, including as an effective self-satisfying lubricant. Or, yes, the boost in testosterone that a man might naturally receive by exposing his private parts to sunlight. Kapler’s blog was bound to be a topic of conversation and source of questions Thursday, and he was prepared for the inquiries and raised eyebrows.
He framed his responses as the product of the mind-set of a man prepared to be a very model of a modern major-league manager. Running a clubhouse these days, Kapler argued, demands more than a title of authority and a finger with which to point. People in their 20s and 30s text. They post. They tweet. They FaceTime. They FaceTime Audio. They blog. They want instant information and total openness and honesty. Baseball players are people. To Kapler, 42, it’s only an asset that he’s a user and enthusiast of these media, and the argument he made was pretty darn persuasive.
“One of the things I encourage people to do is dig into some of that content,” Kapler said. “There’s a lot of it that I’m particularly proud of and, in a lot of ways, wrote to our players with the Dodgers organization and now directed them to our Phillies players coming up.
“I knew that I was speaking to athletes. I knew I was speaking to young men. I continue to believe that, in many ways, I hit the mark. I wrote some of that stuff several years ago, and I’m in a different place now and I have different kinds of responsibilities now. And right now, I’m focused on winning a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies. But a lot of those things still apply, and I can’t tell you how many conversations those blog posts sparked between me and players and staff members in our organization and inspired incredible conversation and really important thought.”
If this sounds to you like new-age mumbo jumbo that Kapler espouses but doesn’t really believe, that paints him as a flake willing to say silly or outrageous things just because that’s what everyone with an iPhone does nowadays, just know that Kapler insisted that you’d be wrong. Read his Feb. 27, 2017, post on the value and manifestation of respect, for instance, and it’s difficult not to see it, in the light of his hiring, as a subtle treatise on a manager’s most important function: communicating with his players and with other members of the organization, understanding them so he can bring the best out of them.
“What you see is absolutely what you get and what I’ve been thinking about,” he said. “I would say what you’re seeing in front of you is authentically me, sometimes to a fault.”
Of course, what’s funny about baseball and about Philadelphia is that authenticity is prized — as long as it’s deemed to be the right kind of authenticity. Dig up a sports section from a Philadelphia newspaper in the summer of 1980, and you can read about Dallas Green raining deleted expletives down on his team, telling it like it was, becoming a colossus for inspiring a talented team to its first world championship. People here loved Larry Bowa for losing his mind during a game and letting everyone know it. Aficionados of the game’s history can still call up a good Earl Weaver screamfest on YouTube whenever they want.
Those sorts of tirades were no more or less “authentic” than Kapler’s tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase or his rhapsodizing about Johnnie Walker Blue. They would also be considered infantile and unprofessional in virtually any other working environment, in the same way that those who take sports so seriously these days or who think a manager should act a certain way might look askance at Kapler’s writings.
“We went through them pretty thoroughly,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “I realize this is somewhat unique in a major-league manager and definitely unique to the Phillies. But that’s part of what we’re embracing here, is Kap’s willingness to ask questions and move the organization forward. …
“To really achieve and really excel, you have to be willing to take risks. Kap has been more vocal about it. His thoughts are more in the public record than they are for some. I think that’s something we embrace. I don’t think it’s something to shy away from.”
Gabe Kapler is a character. So? Baseball has a long tradition and lineage of characters, and characters make sports fun, and if Kapler’s passions and idiosyncrasies and intellectual curiosity help the Phillies win games, the complaints will fade soon enough. This is a franchise that has won two World Series in 135 years. This is a city that has celebrated one major pro championship since 1983. Everyone here would like to get some satisfaction, and as it turned out, the Phillies hired a man with some thoughts on that.