Kapler's personality one of authenticity, intensity
By Paul Hagen
PHILADELPHIA -- Gabe Kapler is incredibly intense. The Phillies' new manager ingests advanced metrics like many people gobble M&Ms. And he's a free spirit who doesn't always feel compelled to color between the lines.
That, at least, is the cardboard cartoon cutout version of the 42-year-old who has been tasked with helping the Phils reach the next level. And like most oversimplifications, it appears to be simultaneously utterly true and somewhat misleading.
Or as Kapler himself put it Thursday while being formally introduced at Citizens Bank Park as the 54th manager in franchise history: "My personality is multifaceted like every human being in this room."
Well, that sort of understates the case. Kapler was a 57th-round Draft choice who ended up spending 12 years in the big leagues partly because of sheer willpower. He played in Japan. He's written for Baseball Prospectus, FOX Sports and a Boston radio station website. While Kapler has never managed or coached in the big leagues, he managed Class A Greenville in 2007 and also worked as a coach for Team Israel during the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in 2013. For the past three seasons, he was the Dodgers' director of player development.
Kapler's background, in short, could be taken almost verbatim from Alfred Lord Tennyson: I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'; Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades; For ever and forever when I move.
The bottom line for Phillies fans, of course, is simpler. What kind of manager will all this make him? And even Kapler wasn't willing to try to pin that down.
"I don't have one specific strategy, nor will I ever have one specific strategy," Kapler said. "But I can tell you I'll take the opinions of the other men in that dugout to make sure I get a well-rounded view of every situation in particular and make the best decision for the Philadelphia Phillies in the moment. And that strategy might change from one game to the next.
"Where I come out on strategy is to find every bit of information, whether it be traditional information, small-ball information, big-ball information, medical information. Just every little detail with how a player is to match up with another player, and then make the decision."
Still, an outline emerged Thursday of what Kapler's approach will look like. First and foremost, he has strong opinions and isn't going to be shy about sharing them.
"I think historically in a Major League Baseball clubhouse we've looked at it as ... we're going to go stand over in the corner until they come over to us," Kapler said. "Well, they don't respond to that. So the way you get them to buy in is to relentlessly care about them, and one of the ways to do that is to come on their home turf."
And Kapler stressed that the method of communication could be a heartfelt conversation. Or Twitter. Or a text.
Kapler feels strongly about finding every edge, including conditioning and nutrition, and sweating the small stuff.
"We're going to make razor sharp turns around the bases," Kapler said. "When the ball enters the hitting zone, we're going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we're going to prepare, prepare, prepare, so that we thought out everything and make strong decisions. We're going to hunt for value at the margins. We're not going to leave any stone unturned."
And yet ...
"One of the things that I want to stress is that [sabermetrics] are not the only way," Kapler said. "I'm not an analytics guy alone. I try to use every bit of information at my fingertips. We'd be foolish not to take all that information and put it together to help us make the most informed decisions."
The same thing applies when it comes to dealing with players.
"The first thing I learned is that it's not one-size-fits-all," Kapler said. "I would apply the lessons that I learned in all of their dugouts and all of their clubhouses to my own personal managerial style. I think intensity does not mean impatience. Intensity means attention to detail. Intensity means doing two things to me: supporting players and raising the bar for them simultaneously."
Kapler's first goal, then, is to create the sort of atmosphere he believes in.
"We very infrequently ignore game strategy, but we will build a healthy culture where people like coming to work. Everyone likes coming to work with people that they enjoy being around. Everyone likes coming to work and having the freedom to be who they are and they're not going to be hammered down because they're not the version that you want them to be."
And, in the end, he will be Gabe Kapler.
"What you see is absolutely what you get and what I've been thinking about," he said. "What you're seeing in front of you is authentically me and sometimes to a fault. I'll say I'm engaging. I'm warm. I'm intense and I'm passionate. And I think that more than anything else I am who I am and I'm authentic. Players today follow authenticity more than anything else, any other characteristic."
Every team is different. Every manager is different. Trying to pigeonhole people is always dangerous, especially for somebody with a background as diverse as Kapler's. He's a part of all that he has met, and all that he will meet, and the Phillies are betting that makes him the right person in the right place at the right time.
Paul Hagen, a reporter for MLB.com, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2013 for a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.