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Gabe Kapler, Phillies manager, becomes face of ambitious change

Matt Gelb, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

The four Phillies executives met the franchise's future, first, at a rented office space last month in Center City -- a few miles from the possible distractions and attention of Citizens Bank Park. They spent almost 12 hours with Gabe Kapler, and the interview bled into a posh dinner outing. They talked about baseball. They talked about life. They did this with most of their managerial candidates.

They knew Kapler had separated from the pack; he is a deep thinker with an intense persona that will charm any young baseball executive. The search party wanted some validation beyond that.

So, when Kapler returned last Friday to the ballpark for another daylong interview, the Phillies peddled him to every area of the organization. He met with the owners. He met with the clubhouse employees. He met with the quants from the R&D department. He met with three scouting directors, the public-relations staff, the athletic trainers.

That, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said, is when he knew.

"To see the way he connected with so many people on so many levels," Klentak said, "was pretty powerful."

The Phillies will ask Kapler, 42, to be the public face of their progressive movement. It is an ambitious transformation, one that will require Kapler to not just unite a clubhouse of 25 different personalities under his unorthodox ideas. It will demand more than Kapler evoking the grittiness of Larry Bowa and Chase Utley, as he did Thursday in his introductory news conference, and preaching principles from his lifestyle website.

Change is hard. The Phillies want to enact change, both macro and micro, and they have pushed Kapler to the forefront of it all.

"What you're seeing in front of you is authentically me, and sometimes to a fault," Kapler said.

He stood on a dais in the ballpark's basement, tugged on a white No. 22 jersey and red Phillies hat, and declared: "This feels right."

That large personality has generated strong opinions about Kapler throughout baseball. The word often used to describe him -- by former teammates, executives, coaches and scouts who have dealt with Kapler -- is "polarizing." He has his friends. He has his enemies. That makes him like any boss in any industry.

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