Klentak, 35, previously served as assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and, before that, director of baseball operations of the Baltimore Orioles. In Baltimore, he worked under Andy MacPhail, who will be his boss in Philadelphia.
He emerged as a favorite in the general manager hiring process, partially because of that previous association with MacPhail. Make no mistake, with the Phillies, Klentak and MacPhail will work closely in running baseball operations. They’ll set a new strategy for the Phillies, build their front office, then construct the team they feel can win the city its third baseball championship.
This is a clear change from how the Phillies have typically operated. They’ve been seen as a family organization – most franchise executives, directors and managers were promoted from within. Ex-players routinely found their way back to the Phillies to make high-risk decisions. But three things signaled a true sea change for the Phillies: the rise of co-owner John Middleton, the hiring of MacPhail, and the hiring Monday of Klentak. And it was those three men who sat at the dais Monday, showing the new face of the front office.
Middleton stole a moment from the Klentak press conference – as owners wont to do – to describe the passion of the Philadelphia sports fan to Klentak. It was a surreal, almost bizarre aside, during which Middleton quickly appeared as serious as a Port Richmond kid whose bike tire was slashed. He recited the history of the Phillies franchise, mentioning Cookie Rojas in the exact same way younger fans will mention Jim Eisenreich. Then he waxed poetic about the sound and fury of Citizens Bank Park during the Second Golden Age of 2007-11. Blood was shooting from his eyes. Middleton meant business. “Long as you don’t screw it up, you’ll be a king. A damn king,” was basically how he put it to Klentak.
MacPhail, meanwhile, was calm and composed in discussing what he sought in a general manager: someone who embraces using all kinds of tools to win, while possessing energy, excitement and understanding of the way modern baseball operates. He was frank at times, and even let the media in on the hiring process more than was necessary. MacPhail has quickly shown to be a promising leader of the Phillies franchise.
Klentak was somewhere in between the rabid emotion of Middleton and the cool wisdom of MacPhail. He spoke at length about needing to balance analytics with scouting, and especially about needing to develop a new Phillies culture. Kltank’s first job as general manager will be to help change how business is conducted within the front office.
“We need to understand who we are, who we want to be, and how we’re going to get there,” he said. Before any major free agent signings, trade deadline moves or even draft picks, that comes first.
But Klentak also, interestingly, spent half his speaking time thanking everyone who played a role in his career and life. As if it was an Academy Award speech, Klentak acknowledged everyone from baseball executives to Amaro to his college coaches. When he thanked his wife and children, Klentak seemed to tear up. To me, this is a man who’s absorbing the biggest day of his professional life. He’s aware of the stakes, he’s excited for the journey, and he truly knows what it means to be at such a major life-changing turning point.
We’re going to hear a lot about Klentak’s analytical mind, and about his age (he’s younger than Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard), and certainly we’ll hear about his past association with MacPhail. But we’ll also hear about a man who, right now, is starting the biggest job of his career. He has a massive system to understand, a front office to build, a system to create, and tens of millions of dollars at his disposal to begin. On top of that, he’ll have to navigate the Philadelphia media complex – and inane questions about “timelines” – while assuring fans that good times are coming soon. And by the way, these fans are hungry to win again.
We’ll have more this week on the biggest questions Klentak will have to answer right away. Until then, it’s a big day for him, for the Phillies, and for baseball fans in Philadelphia. The franchise is no longer smoke and mirrors – it’s three men united by one obvious goal: win a championship. It’ll be exciting to watch them go for it.
“We can build an environment that allows our players to succeed.”