The Phillies have parted ways with AAA IronPigs manager Dave Brundage following the 2016 season. The tenth anniversary of IronPigs baseball will begin in 2017 with our fourth manager–starting a new era in IronPigs history.
Brundage, formerly the manager of the AAA Braves, came to the IronPigs when Ryne Sandberg moved up to the Phillies. It had become clear in Atlanta that there was no room for Brundage to move up further in that organization–despite the fact that he had been a winning manager, with a Governor’s Cup to his credit. He had been a former player in the Phillies organization, so the move made sense.
Brundage was handed a variety of teams in his four year tenure. The 2013 squad was on the younger side, and the new manager warned us on media day that they might start slow. Indeed they did; however, they battled back to finish with a .500 record. It turned out some of the prospects on that team wouldn’t pan out the way the Phillies would have liked, which would explain the record, as well as the subsequent years. The next two seasons would be spent working with one or two Phillies prospects while fielding teams full of spare parts–minor league veteran free agents, including signings from independent ball and the like. Losing seasons were not a surprise, given the circumstances. This past season saw the IronPigs set records for wins, as well as hitting and pitching statistical marks. Not surprisingly, it was the most talented team the Phillies have fielded since their AAA move to Allentown in 2008. Although the playoff appearance ended disappointingly, the season was indeed a success on the field, and in a record way.
Reporter: “You’ve got a lot of new faces in there [motions towards clubhouse]”
Brundage: “Well I’d better. We were 18 games under .500 last season. I don’t come in here any day looking to come in second.”
We didn’t ask much of Brundage, as a blog organization. But when we did, he was always accommodating and professional. In fact, so much so that I found him a somewhat difficult interview; he would give such long and detailed answers to questions that I would get caught up and forget my follow up question. I’ve accused him of filibustering, but nevertheless enjoyed my interactions with him both personally and within the “media horde” is it is here in the semi-pros.
From a fan standpoint, I always got the feeling that he was trying to win the games. Coaches coach, managers manage, and players play–so you can’t always look at the record and decide about the quality of coaches and managers. And, as we know here in the “Mecca of Minor League Sports,” the job isn’t always about winning, either, as our coaching staffs are often tasked with “development” for the big league clubs. Rightly so, of course, but it does have an impact on the quality of the product on the ice or on the field for the IronPigs, Phantoms and SteelFC. On more than one occasion, Brundage would chat with reporters prior to the game, and replay moments from the night before which could have impacted the outcome of the game. He did this as a kind of review of his own performance and the impact on winning and losing. It’s admirable to try to win and balance that with the “development” challenges of the job demanded by the parent club. As fans we should appreciate that when we have it. His in-game management was also designed to put players in positions to develop–but also succeed, with an eye towards winning a game. He would even make pitching changes without waiting until the end of an inning! (Unlike our first manager…)
The Nick Williams Incident
“Nick Williams got Brundage fired.”
“Good riddance to Brundage for ruining Nick Williams.”
Neither of those statements are even close to true. You see, the AAA manager doesn’t get to just manage willy nilly without the blessing of Philadelphia. If Philadelphia wants a player benched, then the player gets benched. If Philadelphia wants a player to play, then the player plays. Even the lineup is done with an eye towards what Philadelphia wants to see out of the AAA club. If Brundage was that far out of line, he would have been relieved immediately. We have an experienced AAA manager on the bench; it wouldn’t have been difficult.
But let’s review, because I never really got a chance to write about this as it was unfolding–which I regret, but was necessary due to other commitments. We’ll skip ahead to the watershed incident:
- Nick Williams didn’t run out a ball hit on a bang-bang play.
- Frustration with that play–as well as his play overall that evening–resulted in yelling and equipment throwing
- Nick Williams was replaced in the game, which probably wasn’t winnable anyway
- After the game, beat reporters asked Brundage. His reply: “Ask him.”
- Williams didn’t acknowledge the problem, “I don’t know.”
- Williams was benched the next day.
The events were covered in a very cursory manner by the local beats, whom I think usually do a relatively decent job. I can’t be certain, but in this instance, I don’t think they followed up in questioning Brundage or Williams well enough, late that night after said game. However, it was their thin reporting which was picked up by the Philadelphia press and then extrapolated-on by the national bloggers into something much more than what it was.
First, Brundage didn’t “call out” Nick Williams in that instance. Perhaps he could have elaborated more, and the reporters could have asked more follow-up questions (We’ll come back to this in a minute). I believe he was trying to have Williams take responsibility for what happened–which he did the following day but not in that moment. The fact that Williams was asked about it after the game should have been expected regardless of what his manager said or didn’t say. And, with the evidence seen on the field by everyone, Williams should have been questioned further about it rather than just have his initial response printed for the record. I can’t be certain that he wasn’t, but there’s no evidence of that whatsoever. It was just reported: “Ask him.” And, “I don’t know.”
From what I can tell, Williams certainly could have sat out that following game not for the incident in question, but rather for the failure to address it properly following the game. It’s part of learning to be an MLB player as much as the on-field stuff, as the big league media won’t be as easy to dismiss, as we would see in the following days. When frustration is boiling over in the game, it’s not inappropriate to sit a guy down and get a fresh start the next day, either.
Philly loved the controversy–it gave them something to write about for a couple days and even allowed one or two of them to get out of town and visit the great Coca Cola Park. What sickened me was the way the national blogs picked up on the story third-hand. Without ever questioning Nick Williams, Dave Brundage, the reporters in question, or ever having stepped foot in the press box or club house of Coca Cola Park, I saw Phillies writers with a national followings calling for Brundage to be fired. I saw him called a racist. I saw others say similarly outrageous things about Nick Williams. It was ridiculous and it was wrong on both ends. I wish I had had the time to address it in my little corner of the inter-webs as it occurred.
For the parties involved, then, I chose to just let it go rather than continue to propagate the story. But now, with the news that the Phillies have moved on from Brundage–who was always on a year-to-year contract–the fingers are starting to point again, and I still think it’s wrong. I’ve lost respect for a few folks along the way. To their credit, the local beats followed up very responsibly the next day, and subsequently as they were interviewed by Philly media for print or on podcasts and the like–at least what I saw and heard. Locally, they didn’t go down that path because they know Brundy and the know Nick; they know the real story. Philly beats who came to town didn’t find anything horrible and dropped it quickly. However, it was too late for what was already being written and some of the ill-informed opinions which were already being formed.
Move Up or Move Out
So I don’t think the Nick Williams incident(s) really had anything to do with the change at manager. As I mentioned, Brundage told me previously that he’s “year-to-year.” And just like the players, if there’s talent coming up through the system, and if you’re not material to move up to the next level, then it’s time to move on. I think Brundage should be able to land a AAA job somewhere, in some capacity if he so desires. I think the Mets are looking for a new AAA manager….
So the “ask him” could end up being the “free agent wh*res” moment in the Brundage era: Not the reason he was let go, but the thing everyone will remember. Any thing further than that is just plain wrong.
There are young players and coaches who have done well and may be moving up, as well as some new prospects to take their places along the ladder in the Phillies’ minor league managing hierarchy. New coach/manager candidates from the player ranks could include Tyler Henson, Carlos Alonso, and Jake Fox–any of whom could get an assignment at a lower level. That would allow for everyone to move up, meaning Dusty Wathan–winningest manager in Reading history–would move up to the AAA IronPigs.
A source in Reading told me that Wathan had issued an ultimatum to the Phillies organization a couple weeks ago, “Move me up or I’m resigning”–or something to that effect. I don’t know how true that is, but when you see that Wathan was added to the MLB team for the balance of the season, it certainly makes sense. I think Wathan is much more likely than the other possibilities I’ve seen mentioned: Sal Rende has managed at this level before, and could have easily taken over had the Phillies really had a problem with how Brundy was handling the younger players, but has said in interviews that he’s not looking at managing again. “Doesn’t need the phone calls,” –or something like that. I also don’t think Morandini would want to move down from the MLB team. It seems to me that any MLB job is better than an MiLB job–and if I recall, when I interviewed Morandini a season or two ago, he said he was trying to get back to the bigs, and it didn’t have to be as a manager. But, I could be mis-remembering that.
As we went to word-press, Wathan was named manager by Matt Klentak in Philadelphia.
So we wish Brundage well as he moves on, and we look forward to the fourth era in IronPigs baseball, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the team coming to Allentown.
See you at the park,
Cover photo by Cheryl Pursell