ATLANTA — A few Phillies players were eating lunch Monday when Rob Thomson came over to ask how they were doing, no different than any day in a season that has stretched into its seventh month.
That was when the news alert popped up on rookie Bryson Stott’s phone: Phillies remove ‘interim’ tag from manager Thomson.
“He didn’t get maybe 15-20 feet down the hall, and Stott turns his phone around and we all just ran to Thomper and gave him a hug,” Alec Bohm said. “Guys are excited. Nobody more deserving.”
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For weeks, if not longer, it seemed like a fait accompli. The Phillies went 65-46 since June 3, when they elevated Thomson to replace the fired Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card series.
Thomson is the first manager to take over a team midway through a season and steer it to the playoffs since Jim Tracy with the 2009 Colorado Rockies. Players lobbied the front office for Thomson to get the job permanently.
In what universe were the Phillies going to hire someone else?
But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski waited until Sunday, after the Phillies arrived in Atlanta, to call Thomson into his hotel room and offer him a two-year contract extension through 2024. Thomson accepted, and on the eve of the National League divisional series. , the team made the announcement.
“For quite a while,” Dombrowski said, “I have felt that Rob is the right person.”
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Major League Baseball requires teams to go through an interview process to fill various vacancies, especially managerial jobs. But when there’s an obvious candidate, the commissioner’s office will waive its rule, as it did in this case for the Phillies.
Thomson, 59, has worked for the Phillies since 2018, serving as bench coach under Gabe Kapler and Girardi. As a longtime coach, he was known for his work ethic. In spring training, he’s known to arrive at the ballpark before 3 am to finalize the day’s schedule.
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But Thomson is also hailed by players for his calm demeanor, an asset once he took over as manager and a notable contrast from the tightly wound Girardi. A mild-mannered Canadian with a dry sense of humor, he has a way of disarming players to ease pressure and lighten the mood around a team.
To wit: Upon deciding to push Bohm up to the injured Bryce Harper’s No. 3 spot in the order in July, Thomson approached the third baseman on the team plane.
“He said something like, ‘Hey, would you get scared if I hit you third? Are you going to be OK?'” Bohm said. “He was kind of like joking at me. I was like, ‘You write it, I’ll do it.'”
Dombrowski said several players approached him throughout the season to offer an endorsement for Thomson. Harper, the team’s $330 million star, was among those players. His opinion carries weight.
“I think all of us kind of put it in [Dombrowski’s] “Ear a little bit,” Harper said. “We respect Thomps so much and what he’s done for us. He’s the reason why we’re here. He’s the right guy for us. It’s exciting to be able to know that, from top to bottom, everybody’s got the same mindset.”
Thomson dreads attention, and in typical fashion, expressed some concerns to Dombrowski about the timing of the announcement. He said he didn’t want to be a distraction before the Phillies open the best-of-five divisional series Tuesday night against the rival Atlanta Braves, the defending World Series champions.
Dombrowski assured him that it would have only a positive impact.
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“I said, ‘Well, in my mind this would be positively regarded by our players,'” said Dombrowski, who acknowledged that he knew Thomson felt “uncomfortable” in a news conference to discuss the decision. “One thing we always try to do is keep distractions away from them. I thought it would be just the opposite.”
Said Thomson: “I wish we’d get to baseball, really, to tell you the truth.”
But Thomson also conceded that this was a long time coming. He managed only once before, with the single-A Oneonta Yankees in 1995. After interviewing for managerial openings with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 and the Yankees in 2018, he gave up on the idea of becoming a manager.
“I feel awfully good about it. I really do,” Thomson said. “And very honored. It’s been in the back of my mind for a lot of years. But the last three, four, five years, I really have never thought about it. And then it just happened. It’s funny how life is sometimes.”
Thomson is only the fourth manager ever to take over a team that was at least seven games under .500 and reach the playoffs, joining Tracy, Cito Gaston (1989 Toronto Blue Jays), and Dick Howser (1981 Kansas City Royals).
It has been a week of celebrations for the Phillies, who popped champagne in Houston on Oct. 3 after clinching a playoff berth and did so again Saturday night after vanquishing the Cardinals.
Now, they have another reason to rejoice.
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“It’s great news to start our time here in Atlanta,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “I think you can see in the way we respond to him, and I think the rest of the organization has seen that. Elated for him. He’s a baseball man. We’re more than happy to go to war for him, as you can tell.
“We’ll celebrate with him, I’m sure, at some point throughout the day as a group.”