Tracy Ringolsby

Mackanin carries wisdom into first full-time gig

Former ballplayer, longtime coach learned from years with Mauch, Martin

Mackanin carries wisdom into first full-time gig

DENVER -- The moment remains embedded in Phillies manager Pete Mackanin's memory.

It was May 4, 1980. Mackanin was a bench player with the Twins. He was hitting .231, and at the age of 28, he was battling to stay in the big leagues, where he had appeared in 73 games the three previous seasons -- combined.

"I am in the outfield, shagging fly balls, and [manager] Gene [Mauch] walks up and says, 'Pete, when you are trying to move the runner from second to third, a deep fly ball to right-center or center will get it done. Don't sacrifice an at-bat with a ground ball to the right side.'

"I told him, 'I have to stop hitting .230,' and he says, 'You're going to hit .270, .275 when it's all over.' He walks away and I'm thinking, 'Dang, he thinks I can hit.' It's little things like that that makes a difference. A guy with his stature in the game believes in me and I start thinking, 'Maybe I am a better hitter.'"

Mackanin hit .271 his final 79 games that season, finishing at .266. Another year with the Twins and his big league playing career was over. More than 35 years later, however, Mackanin, 24 days shy of his 65th birthday, is enjoying his first season as a non-interim big league manager, and those moments with Mauch are with him every day.

It has helped Mackanin handle the challenges of managing a big league team, especially a young team like the Phils, where the ups can be way up and the downs way down. This is a team that opened the season 25-19, lost 19 of its next 24 and went into Friday having won 10 of the past 14.

Mackanin has a driving desire to win. He can be as frustrated as the next guy when a hit-and-run is missed or an outfielder throws to the wrong base. But he maintains a calm exterior.

It's what he learned from Mauch.

"Gene would have a meeting when things weren't going well, and you were thinking he's going to yell and scream, but it was just the opposite," Mackanin said. "I played for Billy Martin [as a rookie] in Texas, and you hear a lot of stories about Billy. Some of them are true. But with Billy, the only time he would yell and scream at [players] was when we were winning. When we were losing, he was looking for a way to pick everybody up."

Over the years, Mackanin had plenty of opportunities to test that method, just not in the big leagues. He coached in the Majors and Minors, and he had a short stint as a pro scout with the Yankees. He managed 14 seasons in the Minors with a composite 985-914 record.

Mackanin on Phillies extension

Mackanin even went 27-26 with the Pirates' affiliate in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2006 after finishing the previous season as the interim manager of the big league club. He wanted to remain in the game, so at the age of 54, the former ballplayer welcomed the chance to take on the Minor League team.

That, as much as anything, underscores that Mackanin is a baseball lifer. Even when he felt jilted, he never felt bitter.

Like so many people in the game, Mackanin had a strong desire to be a big league manager, but he finally gave up that dream nine years ago.

Mackanin had that interim opportunity with the Pirates when they fired Lloyd McClendon with a 55-81 record and 26 games remaining in 2005. Pittsburgh won 12 of the final 26 games with Mackanin in charge, but when it came time to hire a manager for '06, the Bucs went with Jim Tracy, who had managed the Dodgers the previous five seasons.

A coach with the Reds when Jerry Narron was fired after a 31-51 start to 2007, Mackanin took over as the interim manager, saw the team go 41-39, but then Cincinnati hired Dusty Baker, a veteran of 14 years managing the Giants and Cubs.

Mackanin did get interviews for managerial jobs with the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Astros and D-backs, but he wasn't hired.

"I remember one question in Boston: 'You're 60 years old, why do you think you would get an opportunity to manage?'" Mackanin said with a smile. "I said, 'I don't want to introduce age into this decision. I don't think it is fair to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of the other candidates.'"

Bobby Valentine got the job. Mackanin got the message.

"I was at ease with everything," he said. "I still loved the game and wanted to be part of it, but I knew my time had passed [to be a manager]."

Well, Mackanin thought his time had passed. He did take a coaching job with the Phillies, and when he was dismissed after the 2012 season, he became a scout with the Yankees.

When Ryne Sandberg became the Phils' manager, he hired Mackanin to be the third-base coach, and it was Mackanin who assumed the interim managerial job when Sandberg stepped down. He never thought he would be managing the team on a full-time basis in 2016.

But he is.

"I'm happy," Mackanin said. "I'm not out to prove anything. If I was 50, I would probably be a lot more anxious about things, but I turn 65 the first of August, and I'm managing in the big leagues. I am just doing what I have always done."

Mackanin is doing the things he learned from those days, playing for the likes of Mauch and Martin.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.