It’s difficult to be a great public speaker. Even if you’re a good public speaker, the kind who doesn’t stammer in front of an audience and connects with people on a small level, there’s another bar that’s often unattainable for people. For example, the great life coach Tony Robbins is above that bar.
New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, who met the public at his introductory press conference Thursday, is right near that bar. He showed Thursday that he can connect with people at a visceral level. With soft eyes, a sharp jaw, and a face that combines, funny enough, Robbins with wrestler John Cena, Kapler connected clearly and thoughtfully his desires and plans as the next Phils skipper.
As for the content itself, he naturally loves analytics and consuming information, but he’s not tethered to one method. Instead, he’ll use all the information at his disposal, from traditional scouting to the words of others to data, to craft both short- and long-term strategy. He’ll bring in a diverse set of coaches. His past blogging (which isn’t bad, by the way) is informative, though there’s certainly things he would’ve written somewhat differently, in hindsight (that’s every writer ever). He’s excited about Luis Garcia’s pitch repertoire (which was a fascinating name drop, as it was the only rostered player he mentioned). And he wants the Phillies to play hard. Chase Utley hard.
Kapler checked all the boxes. Off the top he mentioned Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Utley. He expounded on Utley (since he was able to work alongside him with the Dodgers) and used him as the template for future success. He gave a money quote about bringing the F’in trophy back to John Middleton (his only misstep was not saying “the fans,” but he was referencing an old Middleton quote). He spoke a lot about aggressiveness and intensity. He seemed very open and honest about himself (except the Nick Francona situation, which he said by MLB order couldn’t be spoken about). In the end, it was a howl of fresh air, a manager who didn’t speak in cliche and seemed completely in command of the situation.
(Nothing against Pete Mackanin, who also was a good communicator, just in an understated, casual way.)
People are going to compare Kapler to another intense Philadelphia coach of the past, Chip Kelly. But whereas Kelly was awkwardly skeptical of opinion, Kapler at least seems like he’s open to everything. He seems like the perfect leader.
Now, that’s what great public speakers do – they make you feel as if they’re the best to do anything. After leaving a great public speaker’s engagement, you may feel inspired to jump off cliffs and fly to the sun.
Kapler obviously has that gift. He spoke succinctly and eloquently. He never stammered. He veered off track with precision, as if he thought it up beforehand, to make only more succinct points. His callouts to Phillies legends were obviously perfect bones for the fans, while his callout to Garcia felt so fresh and wild that it, too, was probably thought up beforehand. Hell, Kapler made Howard Eskin’s needling sound worse than ever.
The guy is really good at this part.
The true test will come when Kapler closes the clubhouse door in Clearwater and introduces himself to his players. Can he help turn a couple fringe players into real contributors? Can he find the secret superstar in the one or two players just shy of the spotlight? Can he turn around pitchers whose brains are jam-packed with bad information? Can he think on everyone’s level, apply lessons to real life and be the best manager in baseball?
We won’t know for a while. At that point words won’t matter.
But right now, Kapler’s words are music to our ears.