Phillies’ interim manager Rob Thomson was a baseball star at the University of Kansas

·5 min read
JOHN SLEEZER / The Kansas City Star

One of the most prolific hitters in University of Kansas baseball history is the new interim manager of Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies.

Rob Thomson, a 58-year-old native of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, who took over for Joe Girardi on Friday after serving as bench coach for the Phils since 2018, led the Jayhawks with a .443 batting average in 1984.

His .443 mark remains the highest single-season batting average in KU history. Thomson, a catcher/third baseman, also led the team with a .389 average in 1985.

His career batting average of .369 put up from 1983-85 is tied for fifth all time at KU.

Thompson — he was a 32nd round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 1985 MLB Draft (never advancing to the big leagues as a player) — has been in professional baseball ever since.

He played four years in the minors, then became a coach in the Tigers’ minor-league organization in 1988. He was with the New York Yankees organization from 1990 to 2017, earning five championship rings.

Named the Yanks’ bench coach on Girardi’s coaching staff prior to the 2008 season, Thomson managed two big-league games in April 2008 after Girardi suffered a respiratory illness. The Yankees lost both games.

He served as the team’s third base coach for six seasons, and was third base coach for the Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship team. New York defeated the Phillies four games to two. Before the 2015 season, Thomson was named bench coach, moving over to the Phillies in 2018 to work for first-year skipper Gabe Kapler as bench coach.

Thompson is believed to be the first University of Kansas graduate to manage a big league team. He’s also the first Canadian manager to be hired by an MLB team since George Gibson of London, Ontario managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934. Toronto native Arthur Irwin — he managed five teams between 1889 and 1899 — is the only other Canadian to serve as a full-time manager.

Thomson took over a Phillies team with a 22-29 record. The Phillies, in Thomson’s debut, rolled to a 10-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday in Philly.

“I am ready to lead this team and look forward to getting to work and turning this around,” he told media members Friday before the game. “As a bench coach you’re spending a whole lot of time preparing for the other club and probably not so much time in the clubhouse. I’m going to take the preparer hat off. I’m still going to prepare some, but I’m going to have my confidence in the coaches around me to keep me informed of information.

“Now I can go out in the clubhouse and really communicate with the players, get to know them, get the feel, know what they like, know what they don’t like, know when they’re hurt, know when they’re not hurt, so that they know that I’ve got their back and that I support them,” Thomson added.

Bryce Harper, who smashed two homers along with Kyle Schwarber to help Thomson win his debut, said as quoted by the Sporting News: “He’s been in this organization for five years now. He knows the ins and outs. He brings that new voice, maybe he’s more open now since he is the manager and not the bench coach. I think we’ll see more out of him.”

“He said he believes in us, he has our back and we’re a talented group,” Nick Castellanos of the Phillies told the Sporting News. “He’s ready and he’s excited for this opportunity and we all can genuinely feel that.”

Thomson makes his offseason home in Tampa, Florida. He and wife Michelle have two daughters.

Asked in 2010 by a kuathletics.com reporter why he decided to attend KU, Thomson said: “I’m a Canadian citizen. I was playing in Canada. The league I was playing in was allowed to get United States imports. There were two guys on my team from KU, Dennis Coplen and Bill Yelton. I didn’t have a school to play for yet, so they called Marty Pattin, who was the coach at KU at the time, and he offered me a scholarship. I came to KU and it was obviously the right move for me.”

He revealed his favorite memory playing for ex-Kansas City Royals pitcher Pattin at KU. Pattin died in 2018 at the age of 75.

“in my first year at KU, when we made it to the Big Eight Tournament, we didn’t fare too well, but playing in Oklahoma City in front the most people I had ever played in front of at the time (was a thrill), and reaching a goal as a club to get to the tournament was the biggest and best memory I have from when I was there,” Thomson said.

Thomson to kuathletics.com noted: “I try to get back to Lawrence at least once a year for either a football game or a basketball game. I follow all of the programs pretty religiously via the internet and on TV. I catch probably 20-25 games a year on TV. I follow them pretty close, I am a big fan. I meet KU people all over the country. They read our media guide and find out that I went to school at Kansas and talk to me about being a Jayhawk. It is pretty neat. It is obviously a big school with a big alumni base, so I see Jayhawks all over the place.”

He noted: “I miss the city of Lawrence because it’s just such a beautiful campus and beautiful little town that I was really comfortable in. I came from a small town in Canada and Lawrence reminded me a lot of where I grew up. I was very comfortable from the first day that I walked on to campus.”