JFtC takes a look at the MLB landscape through a Blue Jays Coloured Lens. This Week in Jaysball, we discuss a managerial change in Philadelphia, the next Canadian managerial candidates, and turning a deaf ear to vaccine whining.
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* The Philadelphia Phillies relieved Joe Girardi of his managerial responsibilities on Thursday-which is a polite way of saying GM Dave Dombrowski was ready to bring in his own man. Girardi was the last remaining reminder of the failed personnel policies of the previous Phillies front office and his firing should serve as notice to fans in Philly that more changes just might be in the making.
Corunna, Ontario native Rob Thomson was named Interim Manager, becoming the first Canadian-born manager in a major league dugout since 1934. The promotion to the managerial hot seat (every manager, coach and player is on the hot seat in the City of Brotherly Loathe) culminates a 38-year year career in professional baseball for Thomson and is an opportunity many felt is long overdue. While Thomson could have the interim tag removed with a Phillies turnaround, Dombrowski has hired respected veteran baseball men in Montreal (Tom Runnels), Florida (John Boles) and Detroit (Luis Pujols) to serve as interim managers and serve as evaluators of exactly what needed to be fixed before a new hire was made. At the very least, the remainder of the 2022 season will serve as an audition for a long-term managerial opportunity for one of the most respected field coordinators and teachers in MLB.
If Thomson is not retained and other managerial openings arise (Miami, Pittsburgh, Washington), the Blue Jays could be looking at the loss of two important pieces of their coaching staffs. Pitching Coach Pete Walker was a serious candidate for the New York Mets job that went to Buck Showalter and is one of the most respected pitching gurus in professional baseball. Pitcher development has long been the Phillies Achilles’ heel and Walker would bring a proven approach to solving the Phillies mound woes. Buffalo Bisons manager Casey Candaele has a connection to Dombrowski from their time in Montreal and brings the perfect balance of “player’s manager” and respected instructor that many have compared to Jim Leyland (who managed for Dombrowski in Miami and Detroit). Even if Philadelphia would not be a possible destination for Walker and Candaele, both coaches may receive serious considerations for other managerial opportunities in 2023.
* Much has been made of Rob Thomson’s Canadian heritage in the days following his elevation to the manager’s position in Philly. Considering the significant number of respected Canadian ballplayers who have turned to coaching after their careers, it is rather odd that only Thomson and George Gibson have been given the chance to manage in the majors. Gibson was a respected catcher during his career, which in itself would seem to qualify him for managerial considerations. He had two stints managing the Pittsburgh Pirates and manned the Chicago Cubs dugout for parts of 5 seasons.
Thomson waited 38 years for his first shot to manage at the MLB level. The next Canadian native may not need to wait as long for his chance to follow in Thomson’s footsteps.
St. Louis Cardinals first base coach Stubby Clapp has managed the Cards AAA affilate to two PCL titles and served in multiple instructional roles in the Cardinals and Astros organizations since his retirement as a player. The scrappy Windsor, Ontario native has been praised by many younger players as a patient and effective instructor and his minor league managerial resume has earned him interviews for vacancies in Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Blue Jays reportedly interviewed Clapp as a possible replacement for John Gibbons during the 2018-19 offseason, but Clapp and the Toronto front office sent mixed signals about the interest. In addition to his impressive apprenticeships, Clapp would be an instant crowd-pleaser with his Ozzie Smith like backflipping abilities.
The most likely Canadian ballplayer to take over a major league dugout is former Blue Jay Michael Saunders. Following the end of his playing career in 2019, Saunders was hired by Atlanta and his former GM Alex Anthopolous as a minor league manager. Saunders received raves for his teaching and leadership as a short-season manager and since his elevation to manager at High A Augusta. Saunders’ youth (35 years old) and history of experiencing highs, lows and injuries during his career make him the type of manager young and veteran can relate too. His pathway in Atlanta seems to lead to a successor role to 66-year old Braves skipper Brian Snitker. But astute front offices in the midst of or planning a rebuild may seek Saunders out to bring a stabilizing voice to their processes.
The recently announced retirement of ex-Jay Russell Martin has generated speculation that he may be the next Canadian baseball icon to pursue a career as a major league manager. Blue Jays fans may remember that Martin did serve as manager for the 2018 season finale after it was announced Gibbons would not be returning to the Toronto dugout for the 2019 season. Martin made out the lineup card and executed all in-game decisions during the 9-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. But most memorably Martin served as mentor to young catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. Revered in his native Quebec, Martin would be a logical choice to manage a Montreal franchise should baseball return to the city. Another “what-if” Canadian managerial candidate could be Joey Votto. While a decided darkhorse candidate to pursue a post-career coaching role, Votto is a student of the game and would profile to be a Gabe Kapler–esque non-traditional major league manager.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.