The players knew before Pete Mackanin stepped into the Phillies’ clubhouse Friday afternoon. No team official had told them. They saw it on social media, received text messages from their fiancees, or heard it from a teammate.
The Phillies had extended Mackanin’s contract four months earlier, when the team played its worst baseball of the season. Now, the manager’s time was over. His roster had flashed encouragement in recent weeks. So his firing surprised the clubhouse. Mackanin entered the room in the basement of Citizens Bank Park to defuse the awkwardness that overcame the season’s final weekend.
“I want you guys to play hard like you have been,” Mackanin told them. “If you win the last three games they might want to change their mind.”
Mackanin, 66, revels in dark humor. But he had long feared this day, a day that sometimes felt inevitable. Mackanin had spent decades in baseball before his first full-time appointment as a manager at the end of the 2015 season. He wanted to be more than a steward during the most painstaking phases of the Phillies’ teardown and subsequent rebuild.
That will not happen.
“It’s about finding a connection with the team and with the players and leading us on into the future,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “I think that is what this is about. It’s about looking forward.”
Not said but implied was the Phillies’ desire for a perspective that better appeals to a young roster. That could lead the Phillies to hire a younger man to manage the team. Klentak is the youngest general manager in Phillies history. He inherited Mackanin as manager. He wants to hire his own person.
“With the way that some of our young players are graduating to the big leagues and the way that the outlook is shaping up, I think 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.”
Mackanin was offered a yet-to-be-determined job in the front office as a special assistant to the general manager. He accepted and signed a new deal beyond 2018. The timing of the announcement was curious — Klentak said he could have waited until Monday to do it, but he said that felt disingenuous to him because he had made the decision earlier in the week during organizational meetings in Clearwater, Fla.
There is one current managerial opening, in Detroit, and one expected with the New York Mets. The Tigers are about to embark on their own rebuilding process. The Mets have designs on contending in 2018, but that is uncertain. The Phillies’ job is a good one. It should attract many qualified candidates.
There could be sweeping changes to the coaching staff, much of which was here before Klentak. The coaches were told to pursue jobs elsewhere. The next manager will decide whom he will and will not retain.
Why fire Mackanin just four months after his extension? Klentak said the organization needed stability in May when Mackanin received a new deal. The quicker-than-expected progress in the second half, in a twisted way, sealed Mackanin’s fate.
If the Phillies are moving on to the next phase of this process, when wins and losses matter, they want someone other than Mackanin overseeing it.
“I still trust Pete,” Klentak said. “I still want his opinion, and I still want to be able to call him and run thoughts by him. Maybe as importantly as anything, I want to make sure when we’re tipping champagne over each other head’s celebrating our next championship that Pete is still proudly wearing the ‘P’ because he deserves that.”
Mackanin appeared emotionless as Klentak spoke at a news conference.
“I can’t sit here and say that I’m not disappointed in what has occurred,” Mackanin said.
Inside the clubhouse, there was disappointment and indifference. Most of the roster had not spent a great deal of time with Mackanin. The players who did — like Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp — could be moved this winter. Mackanin was a players’ manager, and a young group appreciated the freedom he permitted.
“We’ve played really good baseball in the second half,” Rupp said. “We’ve had good pitching, and we’re in the top in baseball in offense the last couple months. It’s not something you expect. You don’t come to the ballpark saying, ‘Who’s getting fired?’ ”
Mackanin had made his uncertain feelings about next season public in recent days. The manager and his boss, almost 30 years his junior, said nice things about each other Friday afternoon. The faults were understood between the two men. They did not need to be shared, even in private.
“I’ve had to fire coaches and release players over many years,” Mackanin said. “When Matt told me he wasn’t bringing me back, I didn’t ask for a reason. I think whatever the reason is, that’s his reason, and that’s good enough for me.”