Schmuck: Andy MacPhail hopes his Phillies rebuild bears same fruit as Orioles' turnaround

CLEARWATER, FLA. — If you need to rebuild it, Andy MacPhail will come.

The man who laid the original foundation for the Orioles' five-year renaissance is in the midst of another renovation project, hoping as he begins his second season as Philadelphia Phillies president that his particular operational model will show the same kind of results in the not-too-distant future.


You know the drill. Out with the old and in with the new. Grow the pitchers and buy the bats. Patience is the ultimate virtue.

The Phillies knew they would be getting the same guy who deconstructed a dysfunctional Orioles team and slowly, deliberately turned it into a more coherent organization with a distinct front-office philosophy and a transparent plan for the future.


But MacPhail is the first to tell you that his front-office staff simply put the Orioles on a solid footing. He gives credit to Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter for pushing the Orioles to the level that resulted in three playoff appearances and the most regular-season victories in the American League over the past five seasons.

The Phillies, who play Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium, are not the Orioles of the mid-2000s. There are some comparable competitive circumstances, but the effort to turn the team around is taking place in a much different environment.

Phillies fans have only suffered through four straight losing seasons. Their team won the World Series with a star-studded team in 2008 and won 102 games for the franchise's fifth straight playoff appearance in 2011 before falling into disrepair. The Orioles had been losing for a decade when MacPhail arrived and still haven't been to the World Series since winning it in 1983.

"You have to be realistic and understand where you are," MacPhail said. "What made that chapter in my life difficult was, essentially you are announcing a rebuilding plan after 10 years of not being over .500. That's hard. It's one thing to come in and sort of signal you're doing a rebuilding for a team that has won five championships and has won a World Series in the not-so-distant past. I think people understand that one. That one [in Baltimore] was an essential and almost easy decision because it was the only viable alternative we had."

Of course, this one is still a daunting public relations challenge in one of America's toughest sports towns. But it has to be an easier sell with MacPhail in charge since he has already proved his approach is successful and he is working with much of the same executive braintrust that helped bring the Orioles back to respectability.

Former Orioles assistant Matt Klentak is the general manager. Ned Rice and Scott Proefrock are assistant GMs and Joe Jordan is director of player development. Proefrock and Jordan already had jumped to the Phillies before MacPhail took over.

"I obviously was a part of bringing Matt in and Matt was responsible for bringing Ned in, but from my standpoint, there is a level of comfort because they all understand what the game plan is," MacPhail said. "It's something they're convicted about and believe in. You don't have to persuade them. They understand what has to happen. They've seen why it's the right approach. Not just from our experience in Baltimore, but just paying attention to what other successful teams do."

Eventually, the fans began to get impatient in Baltimore because MacPhail's plan took a season longer than expected, but he never apologized for his patience. The Phillies are not expected to pop this year, but they are expected to take a significant step in the right direction.

"We know, as do others, it's not a secret — if you stay with the program you're going to be rewarded," MacPhail said. "It's the teams that lose patience that stumble over a long period of time. Those that do will be rewarded, just like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, as well as Tampa back in the 2000s. You'll reap the rewards. You just can't shift gears every two or three years."

No pain, no gain.

"Andy had great vision," Showalter said Saturday. "It's like John Russell [in Pittsburgh] and I've been accused of it — if you look at a situation that's gotten a lot better, there are some people who took some bullets to help get it there. Andy never lost sight of the process and the end game. He's very approachable, but very driven and competitive. If you know Andy, you know how tough that was to go through that process."

Duquette has no problem sharing some of the credit for the Orioles' recent success with his predecessor, who he says "did the heavy lifting" before the club reached the playoffs in 2012, Duquette's first season as baseball operations chief.


"A lot of times, the best evaluation of an executive is after he's left and you can see if they've done their work capably … or not," said Duquette, who helped build the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won its first World Series in 86 years just two years after he was fired as GM. "In this case, Andy did his work. There were some lean years, but there was some light at the end of the tunnel and we went out and got some pitching and changed the culture, and we were able to win over the last few years."

MacPhail clearly is proud of the contribution he made in Baltimore, but careful not to take too many bows.

"The one thing I should say, at the time I left Baltimore, it was no sure thing they would go on and have the seasons they had," MacPhail said. "Dan and Buck have done a nice job continuing to augment those things that were necessary to do for the Orioles to have the success they've had over the last five seasons. Finding the starting pitching is not an easy thing to do, and he found it."

Finding young players in other organizations who turn into big stars isn't easy either. But MacPhail made some very big deals to improve the Orioles at both the major and minor league levels, most notably the lopsided trade with the Seattle Mariners that netted All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, pitching ace Chris Tillman and three other players in exchange for injury-prone left-hander Erik Bedard.

Jones only needed four words to sum up MacPhail's time in Baltimore and his impact on the Orioles franchise.

"He created the infrastructure," Jones said.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun