Canadian bench coach Rob Thomson will serve as interim manager of the Philadelphia Phillies for the remainder of the season after the struggling team fired Joe Girardi on Friday.
Girardi is the first major league manager to lose his job this season, paying the price for his team’s terrible start.
Expected to contend for an NL East title, the Phillies are 22-29 and 12 games behind the first-place New York Mets.
“It has been a frustrating season for us up until this point, as we feel that our club has not played up to its capabilities,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. “While all of us share the responsibility for the shortcomings, I felt that a change was needed and that a new voice in the clubhouse would give us the best chance to turn things around. I believe we have a talented group that can get back on track, and I am confident that Rob, with his experience and familiarity with our club, is the right man to lead us going forward.”
Thomson, born in Sarnia, Ont., and raised in nearby Corunna, Ont., was Philadelphia’s bench coach and co-ordinated spring training for the last five seasons. He was hired before the 2018 season.
His first game is against an Angels team that has lost eight straight games overall and six straight on the road.
Thomson is the first Canadian full-time manager since George Gibson of London, Ont., managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934. Toronto’s Arthur Irwin, who managed five teams between 1889 and 1899, is the only other Canadian to serve as a full-time Manager.
“It’s great. Rob’s in our Hall of Fame, back in 2019, and he has always wanted to manage in the big leagues and now he is getting a great opportunity with a talented team,” said Scott Crawford, director of operations for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Thomson has managed in the past, when Joe Girardi was away or got kicked out out of game. Of course, (former Toronto catcher) Russell Martin managed the last game of the season in 2018 for the Blue Jays but that was just a one -off special game.
“But Thomson is the first full-time Canadian manager since 1934 when Gibson finished with the Pirates.”
Phillies’ underwhelming start to season
The Phillies have lost 12 of 17 games heading into the opener of Friday’s three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.
“We underperformed and that falls on me. This is what happens,” Girardi told SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio. “I think there’s more talent in that room than the way we have played.”
The Phillies have a $224 million US payroll and boast 2021 NL MVP Bryce Harper and NL Cy Young Award runner-up Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, All-Star catcher JT Realmuto and free-agent sluggers Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Yet Philadelphia hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, hasn’t won the World Series since 2008 and has watched fan interest plummet through a decade-plus of mediocre baseball.
Harper has been plagued most of the season with right forearm soreness and was forced to give up right field and play designated hitter. Second baseman Jean Segura is out for up to three months with a fractured right index finger. The Phillies are 12-15 at home and are 4-10 in one-run games. They are 3-7 over their last 10 games.
The Phillies were done in by a sagging bullpen, defensive deficiencies and slow starts from some of their high-priced veterans (Schwarber is batting .192). The lowlight was a May 5 loss at home to the New York Mets when they blew a six-run deficit in the ninth inning and lost 8-7. The Mets had lost the previous 330 times they trailed by six runs in the ninth.
“I think there’s a number of reasons we didn’t win. We gave too many extra outs that cost us four or five games, maybe even more,” Girardi said.
Girardi replaced Yankees manager Joe Torre after the 2007 season and spent a decade in pinstripes. Girardi led New York to its 27th World Series title, beating the Phillies in six games in 2009, and his 910 wins were sixth most in team history.
Girardi said last week the season was “frustrating” but he wasn’t concerned about losing his job. Girardi, though, likely had to make the playoffs this season after the Phillies declined to pick up his option for 2023.
“I’ve never worried about my job. I don’t worry about my job. I’ve got to do my job,” Girardi said. “It’s the business of being a manager.”
Thomson’s past in majors
Thomson began coaching in 1998, he spent two seasons as a minor league coach in the Tigers system before joining the New York Yankees in 1990.
Thomson was the Yankees’ third base coach from 2009-14 before returning to his role as bench coach.
As a player, the catcher/third baseman was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1985 and competed at the class-A level. He was part of the team that represented Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Philadelphia’s struggles go well beyond Girardi. Gabe Kapler was fired after a 161-163 record in two seasons and then led the San Francisco Giants to a 107-55 record and the playoffs last season.
The Phillies also fired coaching assistant Bobby Meacham and promoted Mike Calitri to bench coach.