After guiding the Philadelphia Phillies to their first playoff berth in more than a decade, manager Rob Thomson had the interim removed from his title Monday.
The only issue? Thomson had to sit through a news conference to discuss his new two-year contract to remain as Phillies manager through 2024.
He would prefer to talk about anything but himself.
“Completely,” Thomson said after his new deal was revealed on the eve of the NL Division Series against the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves. “I really want the spotlight on the players and the series. And baseball is what I want to get to.”
The Phillies made the obvious choice to keep the manager who guided an improbable turnaround, one that propelled the club to its first playoff berth since 2011.
The 59-year-old Thomson took over on June 3 when Joe Girardi was fired with the Phillies mired at 22-29.
Philadelphia went 65-46 the rest of the regular season, concluding a distant third in the NL East behind Atlanta and the New York Mets but still good enough to land a wild card.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Philadelphia swept the NL Central champion Cardinals in two games at St. Louis for its first postseason series victory in a dozen years.
The best-of-five series versus the Braves starts Tuesday at Truist Park.
Thomson, a native of Sarnia, Ont., is the first Canadian-born manager to lead a team to the postseason. But it was the way he handled his players that really stood out, allowing them to express their personalities and play much looser than they did under Girardi.
“He’s very deserving of this,” Game 1 starter Ranger Suarez said through a translator. “He let us be ourselves. There’s a lot of freedom that we feel when we’re around him. And the most important thing is that we’re comfortable because we can be ourselves.”
President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said several players came to him during the season, urging him to keep Thomson on as manager beyond 2022.
Dombrowski said his mind has been made up for quite a while to retain Thomson, but baseball rules designed to promote more opportunities for minority candidates prevented any announcement until after the regular season.
“I think just the overall change of atmosphere and communication and just the way the clubhouse felt when you’re around,” Dombrowski said, explaining his reasoning. “It’s not being negative towards the past, but it was just different, and you could tell we were playing with a relaxed but focused approach.”
Thomson had been the Phillies’ bench coach since 2018 before he was promoted to interim manager.
He became only the fourth manager in major league history to take over a team at least seven games under .500 and lead it to the postseason. The others were Dick Howser (1981 with the Royals), Cito Gaston (1989 with the Blue Jays) and Jim Tracy (2009 with the Rockies).
The Phillies won their first eight games with Thomson at the helm. A rash of injuries kept the team from keeping pace with the surging Braves or chasing down the Mets, but there were no complaints after Philadelphia ended the National League’s longest playoff drought.
Thomson immediately clicked with the players in his new role.
“He just feels relatable. I don’t know if that’s just his demeanour, the way that he speaks to you as a person and genuinely listens,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “There’s just a lot of genuine feeling there when you’re around him, and it’s incredible to have in the manager’s office, for sure.”
After the Phillies arrived in Atlanta from their wild-card triumph over the Cardinals, Dombrowski summoned Thomson to his hotel room to deliver the news officially.
It was a touching moment for the baseball lifer, who prior to joining the Phillies had spent 28 years in the New York Yankees organization.
Thomson had reached the age where it seemed unlikely he would ever get the call to become a big league manager.
Now, he’s managing at the biggest time of the season, with a contract to do it for two more years.
“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,” he said. “And then it just happened.
“It’s funny how life is sometimes.”