ORACLE PARK — Over the last several weeks, Gabe Kapler has had hourslong conversations with the man he’s replacing, three-time World Series Champion Bruce Bochy. He’s walked the streets of San Francisco from Nob Hill to the ballpark to the financial district.
Wednesday — the day of his introductory press conference as the new manager of the San Francisco Giants — should have been a celebration. Instead, he walked into an interrogation. Though fired by Philadelphia after two mediocre seasons, more than half of Kapler’s 58-minute press conference dealt with how he and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi handled two incidents of assault by minor leaguers under their charge when they were employed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kapler was the frontrunner for the Giants job as soon as he came on the market. That it took so long for him to finally be named to the post, over two other candidates Zaidi said will and should be managers, shows that San Francisco not only had work to do justifying the hire internally; but that both the Giants and Kapler know they have to justify the hire to the fans, and do it soon.
“I’m getting a job very quickly after having some pretty public issues and some things in Philadelphia that didn’t go according to plan, and I don’t take that lightly,” Kapler said. “Through the course of this process, I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people inside and outside of the organization that I know are going to be helpful in learning from the mistakes that I’ve made in Philadelphia and applying them here in San Francisco.”
The first issue fans have with Kapler is that he just wasn’t very successful with the Phillies, going 161-163 with both of his teams sputtering down the stretch and falling out of playoff contention. Zaidi said at the outset of the search that he was willing to overlook a poor record for a young manager, given the learning curve of the job. It was evident that he was referring to Kapler, even though he’d yet to be fired by Philadelphia at the time.
According to reports, Philadelphia 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. While Kapler had initially been pilloried for his overly-analytical micromanaging decisions in his early days with the Phillies, his approach softened, and he eventually became well-liked by his players, particularly after he brought team leaders together in the offseason to evaluate what they could change about team policies.
Known for his analytical approach, Kapler on Wednesday acknowledged that there can be information overload for players, and that sometimes, numbers aren’t the only answer. He was knowledgable and energetic and even got into the weeds, talking about where to put Buster Posey in the lineup and what he admired about how Brandon Belt attacks pitches.
“I think the second time around always provides an opportunity to do things better,” Zaidi said on Tuesday night.
Bochy acknowledged the same in his conversations with Kapler over the last several weeks, as the two have spent hours together.
“It is going to be impossible for me to fill Bruce Bochy’s shoes. It’s not something that I’m going to set out to try to do,” Kapler said. “He’s a Hall of Fame manager. Beloved in this city and across baseball for so many totally appropriate reasons. One of the things that we talked in our conversation was, his second time managing was better than his first time, and he made a lot of adjustments along the way. One of the things that I’m going to set out to do is spend a lot of time with Boch, and learning as much as I can about the things that he learned, and that’s one of my major initiatives.”
Of greater concern for many fans — particularly on social media — was Kapler’s record in handling the two alleged assaults by his minor leaguers while he was farm director for the Dodgers, baggage which the other two candidates — Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro — did not have.
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.
“In talking to members of the community, we realized that was an inadequate response,” Zaidi said.
More than 15 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. Though the foundation is now defunct, Kapler was deeply affected when he spoke of the work on Wednesday.
“I naively and perhaps even arrogantly thought that I could be impactful and help,” Kapler said. “And I was just over my skis, I didn’t do as good a job as I could have, and now I know that the best action steps for me to take would have been to seek out the counsel and the expert opinion of a lot of people who are devoted to these issues.”
During the hiring process, and the outcry about Kapler that ensued, both Kapler and Zaidi both learned more about domestic violence and sexual assault, something the organization got an education in after president Larry Baer was caught on tape in a physical altercation with his wife in March. Kapler vowed to change the conversation around sexual violence and assault in the clubhouse.
“These are problems in Major League baseball clubhouses,” Kapler said. “Farhan mentioned that he hasn’t done enough. I know he’s speaking for himself personally, but I certainly haven’t done enough and the industry hasn’t done enough. It takes people willing to have those first conversations with players about what’s important for us and what we’re going to stand for in the clubhouse.”
Kapler was asked during the later stages of the press conference if he felt, between his Philadelphia tenure and the Dodgers incidents, that he was starting out in a hole. He chuckled. Noting that the No. 23 jersey he was assigned when he debuted with the Detroit Tigers was Kirk Gibson’s jersey, he said he’d always felt small in Gibson’s presence, because he hadn’t done anything in the game.
“There’s some intimidation coming in with some perceptions out there that I have to account for, and having follow to to a wonderful man and a wonderful manager in Bruce Bochy,” Kapler said. “Pressure is always a good thing.”