Philadelphia Phillies: When improvement really isn’t enough

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /

What emerges from the hoopla and commentary about the Philadelphia Phillies firing Gabe Kapler is the reality that improving a team’s record may not be enough.

As everybody in the MLB universe now knows, the Philadelphia Phillies have parted ways with their second-year manager Gabe Kapler. The skipper’s dismissal was hardly a surprise since the Phils had spent a lot of money in the off-season upgrading their offense, and they had expected to do better than 81-81.

Many had picked Philly to win their division, and “division champion” is certainly not spelled f-o-u-r-t-h-p-l-a-c-e. Moreover, Kapler had annoyed the Philadelphia fan base, and some of the think pieces both before and after his firing suggested that was a problem.

After all, the fans buy the tickets – and team jerseys, t-shirts, cheesesteaks, beer, and so on. Never mind that some (or a lot) of the players seemed to like Kapler. After all the opining about why Kapler was fired, why his immediate bosses on the next step up and the one above that weren’t, and whether or not Phillies managing partner John Middleton is in charge, one truth in Philadelphia is evident: Improvement was not enough.

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Two realities about the Philadelphia Phillies emerged from Gabe Kapler’s tenure: Whether or not he was principally responsible, his team improved an average of 7½ games a year and increased the number of tickets sold to their fans.

Both of these facts deserve asterisks.

The first, related to wins, would be: *Right, but they improved from a dreadful 66 wins to 80 in 2018, but only added one win the following year with radically better talent. (By the way, that means that Kapler’s better job managing was probably in 2018 when he kept a relatively weak team in first place for quite a while.)

The second asterisk, related to attendance, would be: *Shocker, huh?

There was a great deal of comment on sports talk radio, in the press, and among fans in Philly about the dreadful attendance this September, and this was true, as per lots of eye tests. People may have bought tickets to see the Phillies in September, but even before they were eliminated, they weren’t using them – or else they came to the park and played around the kids’ amusements, or ate cheeseburgers in the new vendor’s place (who probably shouldn’t be named since I haven’t gotten a kickback check).

In any event, while seats seemed to be very empty at Citizens Bank Park, the numbers say the Phillies increased attendance in 2018 by 3121 over the previous year, and by a moderately shocking 7028 in 2019.

In other words, from the point of view of an owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, business was good but was showing unpleasant indicators despite the addition of Bryce Harper, et al.

Improvement, thus, was not enough. Kapler became the fall guy, and GM Matt Klentak is neatly set up as next year’s fall guy if the same sort of thing (meaning an improvement by a few wins) happens again.

And potential Fall Guy 2.0 has the following task: Find a new manager pretty damned quickly because there are, at last count, eight teams who need new mangers in uniform. Late Oct. 13 word came out the Phillies will be talking to Buck Showalter on Oct. 14, and – maybe – Joe Girardi the same day. Dusty Baker’s name has emerged as a possibility, as has 2009 Phillies fan favorite Raul Ibanez. All of these gentlemen would likely make the team’s fan base happier than Kapler did despite the fact the poor guy was arguably a success.

Next. Masahiro Tanaka making case as greatest postseason pitcher. dark

But, hey – Philadelphia.

Did I mention that Fall Guy 2.0 also needs two starting pitchers? Stay tuned.