Mixed feelings as Mackanin ‘transitions’ out of dugout
PHILADELPHIA » Away from the cameras, the press conference formality and — at least momentarily — away from his young boss, Pete Mackanin vented a little pent-up emotion Friday.
On the day he was effectively fired, he said he felt bad for friends who would also soon lose their jobs.
“I feel bad for the coaching staff,” Mackanin said of close colleagues he’ll no longer share a dugout with after this weekend. “I’m getting paid next year, so that’s something. But I feel bad for them because they’ve been great.
“They’ve all worked and done everything they can and they have a great rapport with the players.”
It seems clear not everyone had that opinion, since general manager Matt Klentak announced earlier in the day that he’d relieved Mackanin of managerial duties after the season, “promoting” him to special advisor to ... Klentak.
“We’re not firing him,” the 37-year-old GM said. “We’re transitioning him into a new role.” Oh. OK then... “When I arrived here two years ago, I didn’t know Pete at all. I never met him before,” Klentak said. “In the two years that followed, Pete has really grown into a trusted ally and a partner during this rebuild. Maybe more than anything, Pete has turned into a very good friend. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he has accomplished in his career as a player, as a coach and as a manager, and I’m very proud of the way he has represented the Phillies in the last two years I’ve been here as the (general) manager.”
“It is for all these reasons that I’m very happy that Pete has agreed to stay with us in the future.”
So Mackanin, a part of professional baseball for 49 seasons running, will be around next season to ring in No. 50. But there are no promises that any of his coaches will be here, including such former popular players as franchise icon Larry Bowa, Mickey Morandini, Juan Samuel and Matt Stairs.
For that reason, Mackanin felt some guilt mixed in with what he admitted was “disappointment” that Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail weren’t going to allow him to see this rebuild through.
Not from the top step of the dugout, anyway.
“I swear to God, I’ve had to fire coaches, I’ve had to release players, and I don’t want them to ask me why, because it’s tough to answer why,” Mackanin said. “To be perfectly honest, if you wanted to make the change and not bring me back, I don’t care why. I don’t care. I really don’t.”
He did, however, sense it. Despite receiving a one-year extension May 11 (which was immediately followed by 10 losses in the next 12 Phillies games), and despite a 2118 record since Aug. 19 and a 35-37 mark since the All-Star break, Mackanin gave off a nervous vibe earlier in the week when asked about job security.
Sitting in his office Friday, he admitted his baseball antennae had been raised.
“Having been in the game a long time, even though I had a contract, until somebody tells me, ‘You’re definitely coming back,’ I don’t know,” Mackanin said.
Mackanin has been a part of the Phillies’ coaching efforts dating back 10 years. He played briefly for the club as a utility infielder in the late 1970s.
He replaced Ryne Sandberg as manager in June 2015, after the Cubs Hall of Famer quit on a team clearly headed nowhere. Amid months of trading off the remnants of a once-proud World Series club, then toiling through last season with many players serving interim roles while prospects developed, Mackanin’s teams went 172-237, with three games against the Mets still to be tacked on.
“As I said at the beginning, I’m not happy that it happened,” Mackanin said. “I’m disappointed. But I don’t care to know any more than that. That’s just the way it is. I think that’s helped me survive almost 50 years (in the game) now . ... I don’t care anymore. You want me or you don’t, and you have your reasons and I respect that.”
Mackanin is relieved to be staying involved in the game, just as Charlie Manuel, now 73, was eventually kept as a pro scout and instructor after he was canned in Aug. 2013. Manuel was told he wouldn’t be retained for the following season and walked right out the door that day. He was eventually coaxed back, and his popularity with Phillies fans grew from there. Mackanin, 66, could develop that same type of organizational identity.
Meanwhile, the young players that he and his coaches worked to bring along this season could thrive under another (certainly younger) managerial team.
Both Klentak and Mackanin stressed there was never an understanding that Mackanin — who had only managed on interim terms in the majors before— had been chosen as essentially a baseball babysitter while prospects developed. However, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and J.P. Crawford all came up this season and are likely here to stay. And now Mackanin is being shuttled to the side for a successor yet to be named.
All those aforementioned minor league graduates prepped under IronPigs manager Dusty Wathan, 44, at both Double-A and Triple-A. It’s easy to see who’s an early top contender for the job. Other guys that may warrant consideration are just-fired Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, 48, up-and-comer candidates Gabe Kapler and Alex Cora, both 41, and maybe veteran Manny Acta, 48.
Klentak will head the search team and says he’s going into the process with an open mind.
“There are a lot of characteristics in our next manager that they will possess that Pete does as well,” Klentak said. “Again, I think it’s about finding a connection with the team and with the players and leading us on into the future. I think that is what this is about. It’s about looking forward.
“As for the number of candidates and the number of people we may interview, we’re not sure yet. After this press conference, we will begin reaching out and talking to people we know in the industry and putting together a list. From there, I’m sure we’ll whittle the list down to a more manageable number and it will take as long as it takes.”
Meanwhile, Mackanin will simply finish out one job, then start another. Maybe with a little vacation in between.
“I’m good with it. Let’s put it that way,” Mackanin said. “I’m disappointed, surely. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m all tickled pink about it. But I understand it and I’m happy to be a part of it down the road.”
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, left, announced Friday that Pete Mackanin won’t return as the club’s manager next year, instead ‘promoted’ to Klentak’s special assistant.