ATLANTA — Rob Thomson’s dreams came true Monday. But if you know him, then you know he preferred not to talk about it.
He hates attention.
But Thompson had no choice after the Phillies announced they'd signed him to a two-year contract extension, formally removing the interim tag from his title as manager. Thomson’s return became a formality once he replaced Joe Girardi on June 3 and turned a listless 22-29 team into a 65-46 finisher that made the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Thomson’s Phillies just swept the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Series. They play the Braves in Game 1 of the NL Division Series at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Truist Park.
“I wish we’d get to baseball, really, to tell you the truth,” Thomson said at a press conference at Truist Park.
It is not false modesty, either.
Thomson does not like to talk about himself. Ask him how much he had to do with the Phillies’ turnaround, and he will say nothing. He said he hated that people wished him a happy birthday when he turned 59 on Aug. 16. When Bryce Harper wore an “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirt during BP one day in Arizona this summer, Thomson shook his head.
“I really want the spotlight on the players and the series,” he said.
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Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski approached Thomson on Sunday about a contract. Thomson was thrilled because he wants to manage the Phillies for a long time, but he also asked if it should wait.
He did not want it to become a distraction.
“This would not be a distraction. It would be positively regarded by our players because one thing we always try to do is keep distractions away from them,” Dombrowski said. “I thought it would be just the opposite.”
Thomson earned his promotion in the clubhouse as much as he did in the dugout. A manager’s job is so much more than just setting lineups and making pitching changes. It is managing people.
Lets go! That’s our guy! https://t.co/dGR7bFPRBn
“He’s not so robotic,” Philadelphia ace Zack Wheeler said last week. “I’m not saying that anybody else that we had was or anything like that, I’m just saying he’s a person and you can have a conversation with the guy. Everybody respects him for what he’s done on the field throughout his career. The magnitude of players that he’s been around, he’s a special guy. He cares about us. He is there every single day way earlier than we are, preparing for that day. If anybody has your back like that, we have his back. He’s a good teacher and a good person to have in charge of our clubhouse. Everybody really loves him.”
“He never panicked, from the very beginning,” Nick Castellanos said. “He never really flip-flopped on things he said or how he was going to go about things. I think he’s done a great job of getting to know his players, what makes them tick, who needs a kick in the [butt], who needs a pat on the back. Just very, very prepared for the position that he’s been given.”
Thomson spent 28 years with the Yankees organization (1990-2017), including 10 seasons as bench coach and third-base coach for the big league club. Thomson interviewed for Girardi’s job as manager following the ‘17 season, but he was not hired.
He gave up any aspirations of managing in the big leagues at that point.
“Why didn't the opportunity come up before?” Dombrowski said. “I can't answer that. I've asked a couple of people that question, and they seem to scratch their head. I do think, though, that if maybe this opportunity didn't come, then I don't know if he would have had a chance because … sometimes you get branded in a certain way that you're a No. 2 guy.”
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So, in a sense, the Phillies got lucky. Thomson only got his shot because the Phillies needed to save their season. Philadelphia won its first eight games under Thomson, and 14 of its first 16.
Players immediately relaxed under his watch. Girardi is hyperintense, which caused younger players to be on edge at times. Thomson is affable and approachable. He spends time chatting with players in the clubhouse.
Players responded to Thomson’s vibe. They wore suits on their flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth on Father’s Day in June because Thomson honors his father by wearing a suit on every flight. Everybody seems to give him a different nickname. Then, of course, there is the “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirt.
Most importantly, they've played well.
Thomson can take credit for that or not, but on Monday, he was rewarded for it.
“It’s kind of like in Tombstone when they call Wyatt Earp an oak,” Harper said. “That's kind of how he is. Nothing really takes him one way or the other. He's just who he is, and we all love that.”