On the heals of a critical series loss, my thoughts turn to Phillies coaches and personnel choices.
Columnist Bill Conlin defended Phillies third base coach Bill Dancy on Comcast Daily News Live Tuesday, saying the long-time organizational coach and manager is getting a bum rap by fans.
Conlin pointed to Dancy’s 27-year career as a minor league coach and manager, 25 of them in the Phils organization alone. He also pointed to the Braves’ recruitment of Dancy to manage Triple-A Richmond in the 1996-1997 seasons.
Fans have a legitimate gripe, however, and most couldn't care less about Dancy’s resume. They’re justifiably upset by what’s happened on the field. He keeps sending and holding runners at the wrong times, leading to critical missed opportunities. It’s driving them nuts.
Dancy’s appointment as John Vuckovich’s replacement raises more concerns about an organization that constantly comes under fire for questionable personnel choices. Even outsiders with no connection to the Phillies scratch their heads and wonder. Why would a team put Mike Schmidt in charge of a minor league team, why would they hire Charlie Manuel in a town like Philadelphia, and why is Ed Wade still the boss?
Dancy appears to be another in a long line misused baseball men, whose strength may be in other areas. Another might be Phillies bench coach Gary Varsho, who was on the fast track to become a major league manager before spending the last four seasons riding the Phils pine.
Baseball America named Varsho the best managing prospect in the Eastern league for two consecutive seasons from 2000 to 2001, after leading the R-Phils to a share of the Eastern League championship. In his five seasons managing the minors, he compiled a 383-319 record (.546).
When the Phillies announced their list candidates to replace Larry Bowa, Varsho wasn't one of them, at least not publicly. I can only speculate whether he was interviewed behind closed doors.
If there was ever a time the Phils could have used a few good minor league leaders like Varsho, it was this season.
Under first-year manager and former Reading manager Greg Legg, Clearwater finished with a .254 (17-50) first-half winning percentage, and are 24-45 (.348) in the second half, the rock-bottom worst in the Florida State League for the second year in a row.
In Reading, the R-Phils spent much of the season in the Eastern League basement under first-year boss Steve Swisher. Swisher took an unexpected leave of absence in May following a clubhouse tirade. Details were never fully revealed on that situation.
And in Scranton, the Red Barons, like Clearwater, also finished last in their division under first-year veteran manager Gene Lamont, but hovered close to .500 much of the season.
In general, the Phillies farm system is considered one of the worst in baseball after several good years during the Scott Rolen / Pat Burrell era. The ironic part is, between Dancy, Varsho and first base coach Marc Bombard, you could make a solid argument the Phils have the best trio of minor league managers in the game.
Bombard is a former Baseball America and USA Today minor league manager of the year, compiling a phenomenally good career record 1,556 – 1,350 (.535), the most wins among active minor league managers until his promotion this season.
One gets the sense the current assemblage of coaches is a result of rewarding years of service with a promotion to the big leagues, and there’s no doubt the selection of Charlie Manuel was to placate Jim Thome. I also get a feeling Ed Wade overcompensated by surrounding Manuel with a few too many good baseball men, leaving other areas in the organization thin. One look at the minors says it all.
Contrary to what pundits say, being a company man isn’t a bad thing, but there must be a solid blueprint and strict guidelines drafted by the front office. There can't be conflicting ideologies from club to club.
The Braves are famous for the maturity of their young players, a credit to a system that prepares its prospects to play at a major league level at the earliest possible moment, and does it consistently as players ascend from level to level.
All of these coaches – Dancy, Bombard and Varsho - have been dedicated, and successful, servants of the organization. By all accounts, they know how to handle a minor league team.
Next season, one of the first orders of business should be to insert the coaches back into their proper spots in the minors and give them the support and resources they need.
It’s time to take a serious approach to player development and managing, but I’m uncertain that will happen if the existing GM holds the key to the engine.