Why you'll never boo Gabe Kapler for the same mistake twice

From ESPN - April 17, 2018

PHILADELPHIA -- Gabe Kapler wants all those Philadelphia Phillies fans who booed him before the team's home opener to know that he heard them and understands their inclination to vent when he makes a decision that backfires. It's a long season, and he ca not guarantee he will be free from rookie growing pains.

If there's one promise Kapler can make, it's this: Nobody will boo him for making the same mistake twice.

In late March, Kapler lifted Aaron Nola after 68 pitches on the way to a season-opening loss in Atlanta and messed up royally by summoning reliever Hoby Milner from the bullpen sans warm-up throws and putting the umpiring crew in a compromising position. Philly fans took a break from cheering on the 76ers' late-season surge to give Kapler the Jayson Werth-as-Washington National treatment before the team's home opener against Miami on April 5.

It was a humbling experience for Kapler and an ominous sign for a young manager who wants the focus to be on his players. But the cold snap has since passed, the young Phillies are on a roll and he's a model of introspection as he reflects upon that challenging first week.

"What I knew is that I was going to f--- up,'' Kapler told "In a perfect world, that f----up happens after a long run of good play. You are in the middle of the season, everything is sort of settled, and you have seen some ups and downs, but you have ridden past those, and you have accomplished some good things. The tough part is a lot of this stuff came at the very beginning of the season at the most visible moments. I get that.

"What I am always prepared for is to be accountable for any mistakes that I make and accept the responsibility for any miscommunication in the clubhouse, the dugout or anywhere else in this building. I also feel accountable for putting processes in place immediately that will ensure the mistake does not happen again. That's my responsibility. That's what I stay focused on.''

Kapler, 42, is one of five MLB managers making his debut in a challenging East Coast market this spring. The New York Mets' Mickey Callaway and Boston's Alex Cora are a combined 23-5 and living the dream. The Yankees' Aaron Boone and Nationals' Dave Martinez are doing their best to navigate bumpier Aprils with supposed powerhouse teams off to middling starts.

Kapler's first season in Philadelphia was supposed to be about development. The Phillies have not had a winning record since 2011 and were ostensibly in building mode for one more year. Then, some unforeseen buying opportunities emerged, management spent $169 million on free agents Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek, and the timetable for competitiveness received a nudge in a more urgent direction.

The scrutiny surrounding Kapler stems in large part from a California-based, new-age persona that spells "culture clash'' with hard-core Philly. Personality profiles inevitably make reference to Kapler's six-pack abs, fondness for Norah Jones music and scented candles, and the lifestyle tips he once dispensed through his personal blog. Kapler is more inclined to quote Simon Bolivar than Sparky Anderson, and his pledge to take a more "holistic'' approach to managing is a radical departure for a city accustomed to the managerial stylings of Dallas Green, Larry Bowa, Jim Fregosi and the master of fractured syntax, Charlie Manuel.

But it's more complicated than that. The world sees Kapler as the embodiment of the clinical and analytically obsessed modern manager. He sees himself as a baseball rat who's in the trenches daily with the "collection of men'' in the clubhouse, as he likes to call them.

Kapler's career rsum runs the gamut of personal experiences and clubhouse perspectives. He broke into pro ball as a 57th-round draft pick in 1995 with the Detroit Tigers and emerged as the organization's top prospect. He reached the majors at age 23, logged an .833 OPS with the Texas Rangers at 24, was rewarded with a three-year contract and then was demoted to the minors and traded before the deal ran its course. He was released multiple times but also contributed to a championship run as a bench player on the 2004 Red Sox. His managerial influences include Johnny Oates, Terry Francona, Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle, among others.

"I know what it was like to be the guy that did not play every day,'' Kapler said. "I know what it was like to be pinch-hit for because the matchup was better for somebody else. I know what it's like to be double-switched for. I have such a strong connection to the human side of this game -- more than probably anything else.

"I have this core group of teammates that I played with for various teams, like Evan Longoria with the Rays at the end of my career. And in Boston, I had my guys like [Jason] Varitek, Pedro [Martinez] and Trot [Nixon] and that crew. I think if you asked them about me, they'd describe the baseball guy, which is who I am at my core. It's really interesting to me that this does not get seen as much.''

Balance Kapler's clubhouse- and dugout-centric world view with an intellectual curiosity that consumes him, and you will find a complicated figure at the crossroads of two contradictory and often contentious worlds. Kapler is reluctant to use the word "mantra" because it has a new-age tinge that perpetuates a stereotype he's trying to shake. But a quote from author Malcolm Gladwell summarizes his fondness for respectful debate and divergent viewpoints among the people in his circle.

"That's your responsibility as a person -- as a human being -- to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible,'' Gladwell said. "And if you do not contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you are not thinking.''

Kapler's office across from the Phillies clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park is free of personal adornments. But one monument to feng shui is hard to miss. His managerial predecessors sat at a big, wooden desk readily visible to anyone who opened the office door, but Kapler moved around the corner and replaced the desk with a more ergonomically friendly model that raises and lowers at the push of a button. He subscribes to the notion that sitting is the new smoking.

Before a recent home game, Kapler emerged at 4 p.m. for his daily media briefing in the dugout. Unlike most managers, who stake out a seat and casually field questions, he stood ramrod straight and began the session with two unprompted, big-picture declarations: The Phillies have been excellent at going first-to-third on base hits, and catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp have done a bang-up job of pitch framing in the early going.

One thing Kapler refused to do was bite on a series of questions about rookie J.P. Crawford's early struggles at the plate. Crawford got off to a 1-for-23 start and was, by his admission, working diligently in the cage to reduce the length in his swing. But Kapler danced around several questions about Crawford's shortcomings and focused on his young shortstop's discerning eye and ability to work a count. His perpetually sunny-side-up approach to player assessment is a contrast from that of his predecessor, Pete Mackanin, who was generally blunt with his public comments.

"For me, this is more a human philosophy than it is a baseball philosophy,'' Kapler said. "When the media asks me about players, I can always find something positive to say about them. I just think that's the right way to live. It's not baseball-related. It's less a media strategy than a life strategy.''

The Phillies' roster construction has compounded the early challenges facing Kapler. The team has a surplus of young position players who all burn to play regularly and have little experience with the alternative. On any given day, when Kapler posts his lineup card, two players with a legitimate claim to starting are going to be warming the bench and not especially pleased about it. Some early discontent bubbled up when Odubel Herrera expressed his disappointment about sitting on Opening Day and fellow outfielder Nick Williams chafed over his limited playing time in the first week. But public affirmations of support from several Philadelphia players seem to indicate the roster is sympathetic to Kapler's plight and onboard with the program.

"That's your responsibility as a person -- as a human being -- to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you do not contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you are not thinking."

Malcolm Gladwell, a quote Gabe Kapler is living by in his first season as Phillies manager


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