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Kapler ready for Phillies’ playoff push

Bold choice, as Jewish manager aims for glory in the major leagues

    (Getty images)

    The Philadelphia Phillies have appointed Gabe Kapler, who was a coach for Team Israel at this year’s World Baseball Classic, as its new manager in a bid to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2011.

    Kapler, who featured for seven teams during his 14-year playing career, has never managed in the major leagues before, having spent the last three seasons as Director of Player Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is considered a bold choice for the Phillies, and at age 42, becomes the third youngest coach in the league.

    “Gabe has a track record of leadership, winning, progressive thinking and working with young players,” said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak. “We fully believe he is the right person to guide this organisation into the future.”

    Born in Hollywood, Kapler began his professional career with the Detroit Tigers, being chosen as a 57th round draft pick in 1996. After spending two seasons in the Tigers’ minor league teams, he made his major league debut in 1998 at the age of 22. He went on to hit his first major league home run the same year, and claimed 10 home runs in his first 64 games — the fastest by a Detroit rookie since 1954. He went onto hit 18 for the season, third among first-year players in the American League that year.

    Kapler later joined the Boston Red Sox, helping to break “the Curse of the Bambino” by winning the 2004 World Series. During the 2004 season he is said to have consulted a local rabbi on the subject of whether or not to play on Yom Kippur, following an announcement by Dodgers player Shawn Green that he would not. The rabbi is said to have replied: “Do it! We need all the help we can get!” Kapler decided to play.

    After being released by the LA Dodgers minor league system in 2011, Kapler turned to management. Having gained experience at minor league Greeneville Drive during the 2007 season, he was appointed manager of the Israel national team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament. Despite victories against South Africa and Spain the team was eliminated at the final hurdle, losing a return game against Spain in the extra innings. He also became a television analyst, with segments including discussion on advanced statistics and ‘sabermetrics’ as used in baseball to assist coaches and players in training effectively.

    His Judaism is important to him and he has a tattoo of a Magen David on his left leg with one that reads “Never Again” (in reference to the Holocaust) on his right. 

    Kapler was appointed Director of Player Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014 — a role in which he made the club, and all of its minor league affiliate clubs — switch to serving only organic food in the clubhouse. He was among the front-runners to take over as Dodgers manager after the departure of Don Mattingly in 2016, but lost out to Dave Roberts. In Kapler’s final year with the Dodgers, the team has reached the World Series for the first time since 1988. They currently trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series to the Houston Astros.

    Kapler said: “I’m honoured, humbled and excited by the opportunity with the Phillies, an elite franchise in a city rich in history, tradition, sports excellence and with amazingly passionate fans.

    “I believe there is no better place to build a winning environment and I take that task very seriously.”

    On the pitch, Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman, 23, notched the first-ever walk-off hit by a Jewish player in the World Series to lead his team to an epic 13-12 win over the LA Dodgers.