The Phillies officially named Gabe Kapler as their 54th manager late Monday afternoon and they will introduce him to the media later this week at Citizens Bank Park. A baseball source said Kapler would sign a three-year deal.
“Gabe has a track record of leadership, winning, progressive thinking, and working with young players, and we fully believe that he is the right person to guide this organization into the future,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
“I’m equal parts honored, humbled, and excited by the opportunity with the Phillies, an elite franchise in a city rich in history, tradition, sports excellence, and with amazingly passionate fans,” said Kapler, 42. “I believe there is no better place to build a winning environment, and I take that task very seriously.”
Kapler, the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers before being hired by the Phillies, figures to field some unique questions at his inaugural news conference.
No one, for example, ever wanted to ask Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel, or Pete Mackanin about his dietary restrictions inside the clubhouse or his lifestyle and health website. Additionally, advanced metrics never came up in pregame discussions.
The most serious question Kapler is likely to encounter, however, will have nothing to do with how he will manage the team on the field or in the clubhouse. It will be about an accusation from his past made by Nick Francona, an Afghanistan war veteran and the son of former Phillies manager Terry Francona, who now holds the same job in Cleveland.
A May 10 story on the website Yahoo.com revealed that Major League Baseball was investigating whether the Dodgers discriminated against Nick Francona when the club terminated his contract during the 2016 season. Francona worked as an assistant director of player development with the Dodgers after earlier working with Klentak in a more rudimentary role with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Kapler was Francona’s immediate boss with the Dodgers.
“We did complete an investigation,” said Pat Courtney, the chief communications officer for Major League Baseball. “We can’t comment on the results of that investigation, but the Phillies did inquire about the investigation as part of their due diligence.”
Several sources with the Phillies confirmed that they thoroughly investigated the charges Francona made against Kapler before they hired him. The Phillies had extensive conversations with Dan Halem, the chief legal officer for MLB. The Phillies were also in contact with the Dodgers about the matter. The Dodgers reportedly performed their own investigation before Francona wrote a nine-page letter to MLB.
Phillies officials declined to speak on the record about Francona’s claims. Kapler could not be reached for comment.
A source inside the commissioner’s office said that MLB’s investigation this year included internal e-mails from the Dodgers and that Kapler and the ball club were cleared of any wrongdoing regarding Francona’s complaints.
Still, the charges by Francona, a 32-year-old who now works as an assistant player development director for the New York Mets, are out there. Early Monday morning, the Inquirer/Daily News received an e-mail from an anonymous source that contained an attachment to the letter that Francona sent to Major League Baseball. Several sources verified the validity of the letter and a baseball source said that letter was the focal point of the MLB investigation.
“Even the most rudimentary investigation will reveal that executives of the Dodgers not only acted out of ignorance, but in some instances with actual malice, and then compounded their mistakes by refusing to earnestly examine the events that occurred,” Francona wrote in his letter to MLB. “I believe that MLB has an obligation to take these types of issues seriously and that the actions of Dodgers’ executives merit serious disciplinary action, including, but not limited to suspensions.”
Francona, who is a 2008 graduate of the Wharton School of Business at Penn, started working for the Dodgers in November 2014 and knew Kapler from his time in Boston as a player and minor-league manager when his father was the Red Sox manager.
According to the letter, Francona said he had been offered a contract extension and a raise from the Dodgers in December 2015, but he had concerns about the compensation involved. He said he expressed in his conversation with Josh Byrnes, the team’s senior vice president of baseball operations, that he wanted to have a long-term future with the club.
Less than a week later, according to the letter, Francona opted to seek an assessment at the Home Base Program, a partnership between the Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital that provides clinical care and support services to veterans and their families affected by post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, among other things.
“The decision to connect with Home Base was a difficult one, as the stigma associated with being perceived as a ‘damaged veteran’ can be a powerful deterrent to seeking help,” Francona wrote. “I candidly informed Gabe Kapler of this decision, while also letting him know that I did not anticipate needing any accommodations whatsoever.
“I informed him that I likely could have handled this issue without informing him, but wanted to be transparent and forthright in case something changed in the future. While I was hesitant to share this sensitive personal information, I had known Gabe a long time and felt that we had built a strong relationship over the previous year and that I could trust him.”
According to the letter, Kapler immediately told Francona to take a leave of absence and instructed him to share the information with Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
“I reluctantly agreed to Gabe’s request, but explicitly told him that I did not want to take a leave of absence and thought it was entirely inappropriate and premature to recommend that course of action,” Francona wrote. “Gabe made the recommendation for a leave of absence before I was even evaluated at Home Base, and without any professional qualifications or familiarity with the issues.
“I explained to him that such a step is actually the opposite of what is often recommended by medical professionals, and can even be detrimental in compounding any issues. I informed Gabe that I would update him when I had more information, but did not think this was as big of a deal as he was making it out to be and I was primarily hoping for awareness and understanding. Gabe ignored these objections and proceeded to inform Andrew that he had encouraged me to take a leave of absence, and reiterated to him that he believed this was best for me.”
Francona wrote that the subject was not discussed when he returned to Los Angeles from the Dodgers’ minor-league base in Glendale, Ariz.
“Later in January, I was surprised when Gabe asked me via text message if he could share the information about me seeking treatment at the Home Base Program with more Dodgers executives, a request that seemingly came out of nowhere,” Francona wrote. “Gabe never informed me of what exactly he shared or the purpose of doing so, only that he thought it was best for me. The topic was never discussed with any of the other executives, which I thought to be highly unusual if Gabe had shared this information with genuine purpose of supporting me.”
Francona wrote that his relationship with the Dodgers continued to deteriorate after that and that Kapler eventually encouraged him to quit.
“When I rebuffed these efforts, Gabe then moved to have me fired, which set in motion a truly bizarre and insidious process that culminated in my termination from the organization on April 5, 2016,” Francona wrote. “This period was fraught with fallacious accusations, underhanded maneuvering, and flagrantly unethical behavior.”
Francona charged that Kapler told Byrnes that the former Marine officer had been “too hardened” and “ruined” by his military experience. (In 2011, Francona commanded a scout-sniper unit in Afghanistan.) After being dismissed, Francona wrote to MLB that he went up the chain of command with the organization to try to get a reasonable explanation for his firing.
He obviously has still not found satisfaction, but the Phillies, after their own vetting, are convinced that Kapler was not guilty of any wrongdoing. They are also confident that he was the right choice to be their next manager.