Larry Bowa, 76, the former Phillies manager and shortstop, coached for the Yankees when Thomson ran spring training with uncanny precision. Thomson’s promotion, Bowa said, was a just reward for a baseball lifer who respects the game and its history. It was also a classic case of a team replacing one type of temperament with another.
“People said the same thing about me: when you’re high-strung, they think, ‘Oh, he’s too uptight,’ but that’s just Joe’s personality,” said Bowa, now a senior adviser for the Phillies. “And we had a tough schedule at the beginning. When you’ve got newcomers like Castellanos and Schwarber, it takes a while for you to get your clubhouse in order and guys trusting one another.”
Dombrowski said he did not believe the Phillies could have recovered without a managerial change, though in some ways their turnaround was only natural. The Phillies had a winning record last year (82-80) and then signed several productive free agents: Schwarber, outfielder Nick Castellanos and the relievers Brad Hand, a lefty, and Corey Knebel, a right-hander.
Part of Thomson’s job, as he saw it, was to give the team a mental reset.
“We had great expectations coming out of spring training, because we knew we had a good ballclub — and then it didn’t happen right away,” Thomson said. “We’d get going and we’d scuffle, get going and scuffle. There was no consistency. So it built up a lot of pressure, and you could feel it. So the first thing we tried to do was just calm everything down, slow it all down.”
Thomson has tried to keep a steady batting order, and makes a point to send the lineup to players the night before each game. Dombrowski gave him more options along the way, adding Robertson to the bullpen, Noah Syndergaard to the rotation, and strong defenders to the infield (Edmundo Sosa) and outfield (Brandon Marsh and Bradley Zimmer).