What are we to make of new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler?
He’s a 42-year-old analytics geek who’s never managed above Single-A. He’s an oiled-up beefcake hunk posing in a leopard-print thong. He’s a health-food zealot. He writes a highly intelligent blog posing Sophie’s Choice morality questions.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll know how to manage a big league club. Of course, his players will need a thesaurus to understand what he’s saying.
Kapler, who had a 12-season playing career, is part Chris Hemsworth, part Chip Kelly. The rugged good looks should be irrelevant, except there are more half-naked pictures of him floating around the internet than Khloe Kardashian. Clearly he is proud of those pecs and abs.
That stems, at least in part, from a rigorous workout regimen and organic diet. Kapler writes about this on his blog. He had one entry musing how he preferred eating chicken bones to the meat.
That's fine, except that as Dodgers director of player development, his fervor to make the team’s dining facilities health-food-only alienated some players. Hey, does anyone know where Chip’s smoothie machines are currently stored?
Clearly, this is a high-risk hiring by GM Matt Klentak – for several reasons.
First is Kapler’s lack of experience. He retired at 32 to manage the Red Sox Single-A team. It went 58-81, and he decided to resume his playing career. Five years later he managed Team Israel for three games in the World Baseball Classic.
There’s nothing wrong with hiring a first-time manager. Just note that the last World Series-winner who wasn’t a retread was Ozzie Guillen in 2005 (the Dodgers Dave Roberts may end this drought). And, since 1995, just three championship managers did it while on their first gig.
Much of the Phils’ attraction to Kapler is based on his new wave look at the game. Charlie Manuel he ain’t. We know the Phils have gone from zero Sabermetrics experts to a staff of 14, and I’m delighted with that. More than any sport, baseball provides an edge through smart use of stats. I just want to be present when iconoclast broadcaster Larry Andersen bites his tongue through a conversation with the manager on VORP and FIP.
What we can’t yet ascertain is how Kapler will relate with this promising young roster. I hope his youth and intellect is an asset. But veteran baseball scribe Jon Heyman wrote yesterday, “His intensity is seen by some as over the top.”
And I’m fascinated to see how our Old School fan base takes to a New School thinker. Almost certainly, that will depend on his success. Manuel was derided as “Elmer Befuddled” until the Phils started winning, and he became every fan’s favorite uncle. Kelly was a quirky genius until the Eagles started losing, and he became an evil manipulator.
Zealots tend to worry me, and Kapler raises many red flags. But none of us honestly has a real perspective on whether he’ll become Klentak’s Genius Move or just another Philadelphia footnote.
Baseball managers have less impact than those in other team sports. So most likely, Kapler’s W-L record will depend more on the Phillies finding a starting rotation than any organic diet they follow. Whoever the manager is, the onus remains on the front office.
One thing is for sure. The Phillies just got a whole lot more interesting.