Phillies family, fans all 'ride with Philly Rob'

Baseball lifer unaccustomed to attention after rising from anonymity to NL champion skipper

October 28th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Rob Thomson shook his head because he still doesn’t understand it.

The Phillies stood on stage Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, where they were presented the National League championship trophy. A sellout crowd roared when they heard his name.

Phillies fans rarely agree with their manager, but they love Thomson because Philly loves a winner. He led one of the most improbable turnarounds in Philadelphia sports history, taking a seemingly dead-in-the-water 22-29 team on June 3 and turning it into the NL champion. And because of Thomson’s leadership, the Phillies are four victories away from winning their third World Series in franchise history.

“That’s why I say I keep walking out of my apartment every day, crossing the street and thinking a bus is going to hit me or something,” Thomson said. “I just think all the good fortune is going to go down the tubes. But it’s been good.”

It has been good.

It has been well deserved, too.

Thomson, 59, is a baseball lifer who toiled in relative anonymity for years before he finally got promoted from bench coach to manager when the Phillies dismissed Joe Girardi on June 3. Thomson used to leave his apartment in Philadelphia and go anywhere and do anything without anybody other than maybe a hardcore Phillies fan recognizing him.

“I’ve gone 58 years, nobody knew who I was,” he said.

But if Thomson stumbled into Reading Terminal this week for a DiNic’s roast pork with sharp and broccoli rabe, he would not be able to sit and eat in peace at the counter.

Then again, 50 people would want to buy his lunch.

There are tradeoffs to being a World Series-bound manager.

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Michele Thomson has been married to Rob Thomson for 35 years. She wore an “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirt to Game 5 of the NL Championship Series. sparked interest in the T-shirt when he wore one during BP in late August at Chase Field in Arizona.

Thomson shook his head when he first saw Harper wear it.

He hates the attention.

So it was funny to know that Michele wasn’t the only one representing her husband at Game 5. ’ wife, Jayme, bought T-shirts for the players’ wives, fiancées and girlfriends.

She surprised Michele with one, too.

They all wore them to Game 5.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Michele said.

It might be the best example yet of how much players love playing for Thomson. Because if players didn’t love playing for Thomson, the wives wouldn’t love them playing for Thomson. And if the wives didn’t love them playing for Thomson, they sure as heck would not wear “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirts during the Phillies’ most important game in more than a decade.

But Thomson has that effect on people.

He has an easy-going way about him. He is warm and friendly. He can tell a joke and share a good story. But, most important in the clubhouse and in the dugout, he is even-keeled and true to his word.

For weeks, folks wanted Thomson to shuffle his lineup.

“No chance,” he said each time.

Shuffling the lineup would indicate panic, and Thomson does not want anybody to think he is panicking. Because the stench of panic can fill a clubhouse quickly. He is the same way in the dugout. After a late error in Game 1 of the NLCS put runners on first and second with one out in the ninth, Thomson calmly walked to the mound to help everybody relax. The Phillies retired the next two batters to win the game.

“He takes a moment and doesn’t make it so big,” Rhys Hoskins said. “He makes us smile, he makes us laugh. He makes us remember why we chose to play this game in the first place. It can get lonely and hard and pressure-packed out there, right? But if you can remember why you started playing this game in the first place, how fun it is -- all of that other stuff kind of goes away.”

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski bet Thomson’s personality would help a team that seemed to play too tight under Girardi.

“Dave just thought that Rob was a softer touch and was a little more patient with some of the younger players,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said. “And that was our particular case. There are other cases where that wasn’t the right thing to do, but it was in our case in that moment in time.”

Thomson became the ninth manager to lead his team to a pennant after being a midseason replacement. He became the sixth manager to win at least nine of his first 11 postseason games.

“It’s hard to believe,” Michele said. “We were the underdogs the whole way through. At every step, we’re like, 'Wow, I can’t believe we did this!' Then, at the next step, it’s like, 'Wow, I can’t believe we did it again!'”

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A lot of people can’t believe that Thomson never got this opportunity before this year. But that is baseball. For a few years, the trend had been hiring 40-something former players without any, or very little, coaching or managing experience.

Baseball simply overlooked somebody like Thomson, who knows the game and people well.

“I’m so proud,” Michele said. “He should’ve been doing this 15 years ago. Nobody gave him an opportunity until the Phillies. And I’ll tell you what. We love the ownership and everybody in this organization. They’ve treated us like gold.”

It makes Michele smile to see the way people look at her husband.

“Thomper!” fans yell when they see him on the street now.

“Yes, sir,” he replies.

Thomson is a big deal. Just don’t tell him that.

“He’s always going to be humble,” Michele said. “He always says, ‘Stay humble.’ And I love that he says that because that keeps all of us humble.”