Phillies had no choice but to fire manager Joe Girardi: 'The right – but very difficult – decision'

The Philadelphia Phillies waited as long as they could before firing manager Joe Girardi.

Maybe they waited too long.

But they knew they could wait no longer if they weren’t prepared to flush this season down the toilet.

You don’t have baseball’s fourth-largest payroll at $227 million, produce a 22-29 record, 12 games behind the New York Mets, and suddenly decide patience is a virtue.

So, GM Dave Dombrowski summoned Girardi to the ballpark early Friday morning, and with owner John Middleton’s blessing, fired him instead of waiting until the end of the season when they probably were going to let him go, anyway.

“We underperformed,’’ Girardi said on his MLB Network show appearance, “and that falls on me. So this is what happens.’’

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It’s the first time a manager has been fired before the All-Star break since the St. Louis Cardinals dumped Mike Matheny in 2018.

“It has been a frustrating season for us up until this point, as we feel that our club has not played up to its capabilities,” Dombrowski said in a statement. “While all of us share the responsibility for the shortcomings, I felt that a change was needed and that a new voice in the clubhouse would give us the best chance to turn things around.’’

The Phillies hired Girardi prior to the 2020 season.
The Phillies hired Girardi prior to the 2020 season.

Middleton, in a text message to USA TODAY Sports, said: “I agreed with Dave’s observations, but I had zero input into the decision, both to relieve Joe and who to replace him with.’’

The Phillies struggles hardly are all Girardi’s fault.  The team was constructed believing that their offensive prowess could overcome all of their defensive flaws. It was a disaster, with the Phillies ranked as the worst defensive team in baseball, saving 26 fewer runs than the average team.

They’re replacing him on an interim basis with Rob Thomson, who has interviewed for several managerial jobs, but never landed a big-league job.

“I'd argue he’s the best coach I’ve been around,’’ Girardi said. “He has great baseball sense. I think he deserved a chance a long time ago. I hope he turns this around, runs this team to the playoffs, they do great and that he continues as manager. …

“I just pray that they get better and that they get to the playoffs."

We’ll see if anything changes with this flawed team, considering Jim Tracy of the Colorado Rockies is the last manager to be hired this early in a season and lead his team to the postseason.

“I have confidence in Dave that he made the right – but very difficult – decision,’’ Middleton told USA TODAY Sports, “and will hire a very good manager this offseason.’’

The reality is that this could be the start of a managerial carousel that could play out the rest of the year.

There are plenty of other managers on the hot seat, although most clubs are expected to delay decisions until this winter.

Scott Servais of the Seattle Mariners may be next on the chopping block if the grossly underachieving Mariners (22-29) don’t turn this around and make a run for the playoffs.

It’s the playoffs or bust for Joe Maddon of the Los Angeles Angels (27-25, and losers of eight consecutive games). The Angels have not spoken to him about a contract extension. He has a $4 million option or $1 million buyout.

The Washington Nationals have a July 1 deadline to pick up Davey Martinez’s $3.5 million option in 2023. If they pass now, they could delay a decision until the offseason.

Don Mattingly, who took a pay cut to remain manager of the Miami Marlins, but with a 21-28 record, could be the fall guy now that Derek Jeter is out if they don’t start improving.

Tony La Russa, who’s in the second year of a three-year contract with the Chicago White Sox, is safe for the rest of the season, but if they fail to reach the playoffs (23-26) after being a heavy favorite to win the AL Central, his future will be seriously discussed this winter.

Torey Lovullo has the Arizona Diamondbacks (25-27) playing much better than expected after losing 110 games a year ago, but he’s on a one-year contract. The Baltimore Orioles certainly aren’t built to win now, but manager Brandon Hyde is signed only through 2023.

Dusty Baker, who once again has the Houston Astros in first place, is also on a one-year contract, with his future not expected to be addressed until the offseason. Baker also is undecided whether he wants to continue managing after this season.

Who knows, maybe the next manager of the Phillies will be someone who gets fired this summer. They are giving Thomson a shot of retaining the job but with no promises. This is a franchise that has already had four different mangers since firing Charlie Manuel late in 2013 – Ryne Sandberg, Pete Mackanin, Gabe Kapler and now Girardi.

It’s the nature of the business.

You win, you stay, well, unless you’re Mike Shildt, who was fired after leading the Cardinals to the playoffs last October because of philosophical differences with the Cardinals’ front office.

You lose, you’re gone.

"I think you understand it better as you go through it more times," said Girardi, who has been fired by three organizations.

Fair or not, it’s the life of a baseball manager.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Phillies waited as long as possible to fire manager Joe Girardi