Joe Girardi always wanted another shot at Kevin Long. No, not that kind of a shot. That thing at Citizens Bank Park in June -- that was just heat-of-the-battle stuff. Happens all the time in pro sports and blows over quickly after everyone cools off and defuses the F-bombs.
Girardi always wanted Long to be his hitting coach again, just like he was in New York with the Yankees from 2008 to 2014.
"Seeing how great he was all those years in New York and watching him help develop hitters," Girardi said. "One thing I have always had in the back of my mind is how great he was at recognizing hitters' mechanics and when they got a little bit off, he would make the right adjustment with them.
"I've always thought that's one of the most important things for a hitting coach. When a guy gets out of whack, how quickly do you pick it up? Kevin was fantastic at it.
"So, I knew it's the guy I always wanted, in a sense, if I ever had the chance to be back together with him because I knew how good he was.
"He has an infectious personality. Guys love him. He gets them going. He tricks them into doing things that teach them more about themselves. He's just a fantastic coach."
Long, 54, was officially introduced as the Phillies' new hitting coach on Wednesday. He arrives after spending the last four seasons as hitting coach in Washington, where he helped the Nationals win the World Series in 2019. He was part of Girardi's staff when the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series.
"I'm looking forward to reuniting with Joe and Rob Thomson (the Phillies' bench coach and another Yankee ex-pat) and getting the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series in the near future," Long said.
Long replaces Joe Dillon, who was on the job for only two seasons, one of which was cut to 60 games by the pandemic.
Dillon had been Long's assistant in Washington before coming to Philadelphia. He was fired by the Phillies before the final game of the season less than two weeks ago. The 2021 Phillies missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season, the longest drought in the NL.
Girardi said he knew Long's contract in Washington was running out but did not believe Long would be available because he expected him to get a new deal with the Nats. Long indeed had begun negotiations with the Nats after the season ended but "we were just far apart on numbers," he said. He sought permission to speak with other clubs "and the Phillies were at the top of my list," so he called Girardi.
"When he reached out, I knew this was an opportunity we needed to take advantage of," Girardi said. "Dave (Dombrowski, president of baseball ops) was great at getting it done quickly.
"I think this is an exciting day for the Phillies, really exciting."
Long received a two-year contract. The team did not even interview anyone else.
While Long's credentials are stellar, there is something curious about his hiring: He was a mentor to Dillon, the Phillies' previous hitting coach, and Dillon was his protégé.
What's really changed here?
"I'm a big college football fan," Girardi said. "There are a lot of protégés of Nick Saban's that have never beaten him. It just happened for the first time. So that's the way I would describe it. There are a lot of protégés, but there's one Nick Saban. There's one Kevin Long."
From runs per game, to OPS, to batting average, the Phillies were right around league average in most offensive categories last year. Long said he will look to improve everything and that will start with getting to know the hitters. He has a bit of a head start. He coached Bryce Harper in Washington and has watched Phillies hitters regularly the last handful of seasons as an opponent. He's already watching video. He's planning to be in Clearwater next week, where he'll work with Alec Bohm, get to know J.T. Realmuto and connect with the minor-league staff. He believes in establishing a continuity of hitting approach and instruction up and down the system. His chief philosophical beliefs are that hitters need to be ready and on time for the fastball and that good swings start from the ground up with all the parts staying connected.
Harper expressed disappointment when Dillon, a good man and hard worker, was let go 10 days ago. The potential NL MVP continued to show Dillon respect but made it no secret he was enthused about Long's hiring.
"We talked on the phone," Long said. "I told him he was going to have a familiar hitting coach and he said, 'I just got goosebumps.' I said, 'Good. Me, too.'
"We're excited to be reunited. Any time you lose a staff member, and he lost Joe Dillon, and you can get someone you're familiar with and trust in, it's a big deal. He was obviously disappointed that Joe was let go, but he understands it's a business. To come and get me as Joe and Dave did, I think it's going to work out real well for all of us."
Long was confident and articulate during a 30-minute Zoom session with reporters. He was eager to answer questions about the dustup he and Girardi had in June after the Phillies skipper asked umpires to check and see if Washington pitcher Max Scherzer was loading the baseball with illegal substances. Scherzer was clean but the Nationals' dugout took great umbrage with Girardi's request. He and Long shouted some naughty words at each other and Girardi even extended an invitation for fisticuffs.
No biggie. Boys will be boys.
"Two guys who like to compete and get after it," Long said. "He was the big brother and I was the little brother. We had a quarrel. At the end of the day, we're family and we've always been family. Move on."
"We laughed it off the next time we played," Girardi said. "My emotions got the best of me. It's not the first time. It usually happens with umpires and this time it was Kevin."