Dave Dombrowski went out for his morning jog on Friday, cleaned up and called Joe Girardi.
It was around 8 a.m.
Dombrowski asked Girardi to stop by the stadium earlier than his usual reporting time.
Girardi has been around too long not to know what was next.
“I think in the end he was in a much more relieved state,” Dombrowski said later Friday, at a press conference to announce Girardi’s dismissal as Phillies manager. “The pressure was on his back at that time.”
Girardi was a very famous rookie when he joined the Phillies in October 2019. He had won three World Series rings as a player and another as a manager. He would bring a winning touch to a team that desperately needed it.
But the loss, an ugly annual pattern for this franchise, continued. Four games under .500 and no playoffs in 2020. Two meager games above .500 in 2021 and no playoffs for the 10th straight year.
The Phillies spent more than $200 million on free agents this winter — on top of the more than $700 million they had spent in the previous three seasons — but the losses continued and gnawed at Girardi.
Swept up in New York over the weekend and playing sloppy, uninspired ball in the process, the Phillies fell to six games under .500. They returned home on Monday and lost two more to the San Francisco Giants, putting the slippage to 12 losses in 16 games.
Dombrowski had seen enough. A high-priced free agent signing, his mandate was to win, to stop the playoff drought at all costs. He couldn’t tear up the expensive roster, not with four months of the season remaining and three playoff berths up for grabs even though the division title seemed like a far-fetched pipe dream given the huge lead the New York Mets had built. . So he played the only map he could in hopes of boosting the team and turning the season around.
“I understand,” Girardi told Dombrowski when they met Friday morning. “The club underperformed. I’ve been there before, I understand how it goes.”
And that ended the Joe Girardi era of leading the Phillies. He managed 273 games, five short of Ryne Sandberg’s forgettable tenure, and was 132-141.
Girardi’s bench coach Rob Thomson is the interim manager, the “new voice” Dombrowski is counting on to turn the season around.
Time will tell if that happens.
Until then, a few questions, a few answers, a few takeaways:
HOW LONG HAS THE MOVE BEEN UNDERWAY?
It could be argued that Dombrowski had been thinking about Girardi’s future for months. He died taking the option year on Girardi’s contract as the season approached, making the skipper a lame duck, a status that can sometimes – not always, but sometimes – jeopardize the “voice” of a manager in the clubhouse.
Dombrowski, one of baseball’s few executives to make just about every trip with the team, said he’s started seriously considering a change over the past 10 days.
He said there was no tipping point per se, but acknowledged that the last road trip, which ended in a New York sweep and was followed by the two home losses to the Giants, made him realize it was time.
THE BLAME GAME
The manager of any group in any social setting pays the price when that group fails to achieve its goals. Girardi, who suffered incredibly tough losses, will be the first to tell you he has to take the shot. But the team’s defense – weakened by Bryce Harper’s inability to play on the field – was horrible and it cost them dearly on the last road trip. The bullpen too.
“I’m not directly saying it’s the manager’s fault,” Dombrowski said. “But I also think it’s a tempo that you have to set at your club, that you have to play better.”
At the clubhouse, the players raised their hands and took their share of responsibility.
Dombrowski and the front office also share responsibility for the state of the team. They fashioned a DH-heavy club that was meant to outlast their poor defense. This does not happen.
“We were all on the same page when it came to (roster) building,” Dombrowski said. “At the end of the day, it’s about my decision on this.”
Dombrowski added: “The one thing you have to constantly look at with the club – we have to be a good hitting club. That’s how we’re set up. That’s really a key for us. So I think we can keep swinging the bats even better. We’re a top 10 (offensive) team in the league and I think we can be even better than that. And that’s how we were built.
WHO DID DOMBROWSKI CONSULT BEFORE THE DISMISSAL?
He did not speak to players or members of the coaching staff, he said. He spoke with the property and other members of the front office.
WHY THOMSON AS INTERIM?
He has been with the team for five years and knows the staff.
“I think Rob provides a different kind of communication with the players than what was going on,” Dombrowski said. “I think it was really important for us.”
Dombrowski remained in-house with an interim skipper rather than embark on a lengthy process of opening the position up to outsiders. Following MLB interview protocols takes time and this team needs to work fast to salvage its season.
Dombrowski also mentioned the idea that he would bring in his old friend Jim Leyland to right the ship: Leyland is retired and intends to stay retired.
Finding a new skipper becomes the No. 1 job in the offseason for Dombrowski – unless Thomson succeeds and wins the job in the future.
IS THOMSON TOO LIKE GIRARDI?
Valid question given their time together in the Yankees dugout, Girardi as skipper, Thomson as bench coach.
“We had the highest of highs, a world championship together, a lot of playoff wins together,” Thomson said. “We’ve been through some tough times. There’s a bond there that will never be broken.
“I’m a little different to Joe. I’m not going to get into the differences, but I like to think I’m prepared and a good communicator with these guys. The plan is to make sure all these guys know where they’re supposed to be at any given time, whether it’s our bullpen, training, whatever. I just want to make sure guys are prepared.
WHAT ABOUT THIS DEFENSE?
Thomson, 58, is a former Ontario minor league catcher. He has long wanted a shot to manage, but has never let that ambition stop him from doing his job supporting another manager. That’s why it lasted so long.
So now that he’s got his shot, how is he going to get past that sloppy defense and turn things around?
“I don’t think you can get the guys to cover more space, but we are constantly working,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff. I’m telling you. And I was very humbled when Dave offered this to me because we have a group of guys in the coaching room who could be sitting here right now, so I feel very lucky for that.
“Our coaching staff is constantly working on how to line up balls on the ground, how to throw, how to catch balls while running. We can’t teach them to cover more space because we can’t teach them the speed. But we have to get them in the right place and help them make sure they can field balls on the ground, catch fly balls, throw to the right base, those fundamental things.”
WHAT ABOUT THE BULLPEN?
Girardi didn’t want to use relievers three days in a row. He wanted to keep them fresh for the long term because, as he put it, “the price is in October.”
His personal adherence to not using a reliever three days in a row showed that he always prioritized the health of his players, an admirable quality, but it might have cost the Phils a game last week in Atlanta and contributed to his dismissal.
Thomson will be more responsive, to use an old line from Gabe Kapler.
“We’re now in June and I’m not going to say we would do it every time, but we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “If there are low tone counts the first two nights and the guy looks you in the eye and says, ‘I’m ready to go’ and you trust him, then that’s a possibility.”
ABOUT THIS DROUGHT
Zero playoff games the last 10 seasons. Huge payroll. Big stars. High expectations.
Can this team still pull through?
This is the idea behind managerial change.
“I think we can qualify for the playoffs,” Dombrowski said. “I think we’re in a position where we can fight to do that. I believe that.
“But we’re going to have to play better.”