The most controversy Bruce Bochy faced in his 13-year tenure with the San Francisco Giants came from on-field decisions. His successor, Gabe Kapler, faces a great deal more before he’s even introduced.
On Tuesday, San Francisco hired Kapler, 44, who was a frontrunner from the start of the process because of his relationship with president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi. Zaidi and new general manager Scott Harris will introduce Kapler — who signed a three-year deal — in a press conference on Wednesday at Oracle park, where Bochy guided three World series teams.
“I’m really looking forward to our fan base and people in this organization getting to know Gabe the way I know him,” Zaidi said on an evening conference call with reporters. “As they do, I’m very confident it’ll be a strong, positive, lasting relationship.”
Kapler was fired by the Philadelphia Philles after two seasons, and fans railed at the fact that he was a finalist — along with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro — due to his lack of on-field success, as well as due to how he handled several assault accusations against minor leaguers during his time as director of player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Zaidi — who was Kapler’s boss as general manager in Los Angeles from 2014-17 — addressed those accusations following the announcement of Kapler’s hiring, and after reflecting on those incidents during the hiring process, he accepted part of the blame.
“I realize the biggest mistake was asking the wrong questions,” Zaidi said. “We asked, ‘What do we have to do?’ rather than, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ I can only speak for myself. I’m truly sorry from my perspective that I didn’t ask the right questions and ask things appropriately. I view it as a learning experience, and something I want to take into the future with this organization.”
During Kapler’s tenure with Los Angeles, three incidents of sexual violence involving Dodgers minor leaguers occurred and were not reported to Major League Baseball, two of those coming after MLB instituted its leaguewide domestic violence policy requiring such reporting.
In late February of 2015 the grandmother of a 17-year-old girl emailed Kapler, telling him that, the previous evening, her granddaughter had been asked to party in a room at a team hotel near thet Dodgers’ spring training complex, with two older women and two Dodgers minor leaguers.
The girl, a runaway, said she’d consumed half a bottle of vodka, vomited on a bed and then been beaten up by the two women while the players recorded video and posted it on Snapchat.
Instead of referring the allegations to the police, Kapler tried to organize a dinner meeting between the accuser and the accused to attempt to mediate the situation. A week later, following an arrest for shoplifting, the girl made a separate accusation of which Kapler has stated he was not aware when trying to arrange the mediation: That she’d been sexually assaulted by one of the Dodgers players.
Eight months later, at the same Glendale, Ariz. hotel, another Dodgers minor leaguer was accused of sexual violence against a housekeeping staffer. Kapler connected with the hotel manager, and the player was subsequently released. Neither of the two incidents — or a third the following spring — were reported to Major League baseball. Instead, Kapler reportedly tried to deal with the situations himself, and viewed the allegations of criminal behavior as teachable moments, though he did report the incidents to team counsel.
It should be noted that more than 10 years ago, Kapler and his then-wife Lisa started the Gabe Kapler Foundation, which was aimed at educating the public about domestic violence and helping women and their children escape abusive relationships. The foundation’s website now appears defunct.
“Obviously, there’s been stuff written over the last couple weeks as Gabe has emerged as a candidate over some incidents that happened in the farm system in Los Angeles, and how those incidents were handled,” Zaidi said. “To be honest, those incidents and how we handled them as an organization, we had an opportunity to talk to people in the community and talk to experts to try and learn and understand what we did and what we did wrong.”
Similarly, Kapler has learned a great deal from his time in Philadelphia, where he went 161-163 and faced initial push-back from players for data-driven lineup decisions and bullpen management. Kapler soon won players over, and developed strong relationships with the front office.
Players and executives viewed him as “a leader and as a partner,” Zaidi said, arguably the most important attribute given the Giants’ new focus on analytics-based lineup and pitching management.
According to reports, general manager Matt Klentak wanted to keep Kapler, before he was fired two weeks after the end of the season by managing partner John Middleton with a year left on his deal.
“I think the second time around always provides an opportunity to do things better,” Zaidi said.
Kapler went 8-20 and 12-16 in September during his time with Philadelphia, knocking the Phillies out of contention both years. Kapler, though, did improve as he went, and in May, Philadelphia outscored the Giants 36-8 in a four-game sweep at Citizen’s Bank Park.
“We reached out to many of the players and the front office on that team to hear about their experience there with him,” Zaidi said. “Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I received unsolicited texts and phone calls from players and people in the Phillies organization to endorse his candidacy from many phone numbers that I didn’t even recognized. That was really impactful for me, and I think for all of us.”
Newly-named general manager Scott Harris, who also participated in the manager search for the Chicago Cubs this offseason as the club’s assistant general manager, echoed those sentiments.
“We were really impressed by the reference checks that we did around the game on Gabe,” Harris said. “There were many players, coaches and executives inside the game that spoke glowingly about Gabe’s aptitude and his work ethic, his experiences in the game and his ability to inspire development at the major league level. We found that extremely valuable and extremely persuasive.”
Zaidi ultimately went with the candidate he’d known best, and for the longest, having worked with the analytically-minded Kapler during his 2014-17 tenure as the Dodgers farm director. He was Zaidi’s favored candidate to replace Don Mattingly before Dave Roberts was hired, and Kapler was considered the favorite for the Giants job from the start of the offseason, when Bochy stepped away from the game after 25 years as a manager.
Zaidi said that Kapler embodied what he was looking for from the outset: “Somebody who was capable of building trust and relationships with both the players and the front office.”
“I feel really optimistic that as our fan base gets to know him, they’re going to know the person that I’ve known, personally and professionally, and be really excited about him as our next manager. There have been some portrayals of him publicly that I don’t even recognize.”
Ownership was involved in the process and the final decision, and was “very supportive” of the hire. Zaidi also consulted former players.
Kapler was a teammate of San Francisco third baseman Evan Longoria in Tampa, along with now-free agent catcher Stephen Vogt, and is close with center fielder Kevin Pillar. Both are Jewish, with Kapler being the eighth Jewish manager in major league history.
A Southern California native, Kapler prepped at Woodland Hills-Taft before attending Cal State Fullerton for a semester, then Moorpark College. He spent 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, interrupted by one minor league managerial stint, before coaching the Israel national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifier. He then worked closely with tech startup Egraphs, and appeared as an analyst on Fox Sports 1, where he explained advanced statistics and sabermetrics.
From there, Kapler was hired by the Dodgers to work with minor league affiliates, and translated his experience in bodybuilding to the organization’s approach to nutrition, getting junk food out of the clubhouse and instead serving entirely organic food.
“My professional experience with Gabe as a farm director in L.A., the one thing that stands out to me is, he just worked tirelessly every day to make the organization better,” Zaidi said.