The last we saw Kevin Long, the now-former Washington Nationals’ hitting coach and Nats’ slugger Juan Soto were in Dodger Stadium, cheering on former teammates Max Scherzer and Trea Turner as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game. How did that trip (and those seats!?) come about? Long told reporters, as he was introduced as the Philadelphia Phillies’ new hitting coach on Wednesday afternoon, that it was Soto’s idea to go to LA, so he decided to accompany the 22-year-old outfielder.
“It’s never easy to end a major league season,” Long said of the disappointing campaign in the nation’s capital, “... especially when you’re not going to the playoffs, but once that ended — Juan Soto had talked to me a few weeks before the season had ended and asked if I would go with him to Dodger Stadium, and I said, ‘That’s a unique request.’ And he said, ‘I just want to support Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, I felt like they were instrumental in my career, and I would like to support them.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to tell you no, Juan Soto, I’m going with you.’”
Both Scherzer and Turner, of course, were traded to the Dodgers at this past July 30th’s trade deadline.
“So we went to Dodger Stadium,” Long continued, “and Scott Boras, his agent, got us really nice seats, another thing that Juan wanted to do was wear a Trea Turner jersey and he wanted me to wear a Max Scherzer jersey, so we did that and had a good time, and once that was over, I had talked to [Nats’ GM] Mike Rizzo and the Nationals about a contract and we were just far apart on numbers, so we needed to, or I felt like it was best for me, to seek permission to talk to other teams, and that’s how that progressed into the Philadelphia Phillies, Joe Girardi, and Dave Dombrowski.”
Max Scherzer went over to high five Juan Soto and Kevin Long after the walk-off home run pic.twitter.com/HvV0s4FLzE— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) October 7, 2021
Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty wrote this past Sunday afternoon, after the news broke that the club was reassigning first base coach Randy Knorr and third base coach Bob Henley within the organization, that the remaining coaches on Martinez’s 2021 staff, bench coach Tim Bogar, pitching coach Jim Hickey, bullpen coach Henry Blanco, Long, and their assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler had, “… been extended opportunities to return in their current positions.”
The question mark, Dougherty suggested, was Long, who, according to “multiple people with knowledge of his situation,” was, “open to returning again,” for a fifth season in D.C., “though he [would] consider other opportunities in the coming weeks.”
When the Phillies expressed interest, after relieving Long’s former assistant hitting coach with the Nationals, Joe Dillon, of his duties as the hitting coach in Philadelphia, the gig in the City of Brotherly Love came together quickly,
“They moved very quickly in this matter,” Long told reporters, “and I had a few days to look for employment, and the Phillies were at the top of my list, and [Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi] and I have a long-standing relationship, along with [bench coach] Rob Thompson, who I’ve known a long time as well, so I’m looking forward to reuniting with those guys and not only that but getting the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series here in the near future.
“Before that I want to also thank the Washington Nationals. Mike Rizzo, Davey Martinez and that staff were tremendous in helping me build character and become a better coach, so thanks to them and the players over there. It’s always tough to leave friendships and bonds behind, but it’s always nice to reunite and start new friendships as well, so having said that, let’s go Phillies!”
Girardi said he didn’t know Long would be available when they made the decision on Dillon.
“I knew his contract was up but I didn’t know if he’d be available,” Girardi explained in a call with reporters on Zoom on Wednesday.
“My thought was — I didn’t necessarily think so, because I knew how good he was, and I knew anyone who had him would want to — I thought would definitely want to keep him and keep him around because of the job that he’s done.”
Girardi and Long have history together, of course, when the former was the manager in New York and the latter was the Yankees’ hitting coach from 2008-14, when Long left to work with the Mets (2015-17), before he joined the Nationals (2018-21), and won a World Series with them in 2019.
“The one thing that I always have in the back of my mind is how great he was at recognizing hitters’ mechanics, and when they got off, he would adjust them,” Girardi said of Long.
“I think one of the most important things of being a hitting coach is when a guy gets a little out of whack, how quickly you pick it up” the Phillies’ skipper continued.
“And he was fantastic at it, so I knew it’s the guy I always wanted in a sense if I ever got a chance to be back together with him, because I knew how good he was.”
Of course, the last public interaction between Girardi and Long was not a pleasant one...
[ed. note - “Some NSFW language below, adjust volume accordingly.”]
So, how quickly did the old friends get past that blow-up?
“I’ll address that one,” Long said.
“That was two guys who like to compete and like to get after it. And I know Joe’s personality and he knows mine. Let’s just say he was the big brother and I was the little brother, and we had a little quarrel, but we’re family. At the end of the day we’re family.”
Girardi isn’t the only one Long will be reunited with in Philadelphia, of course. He was Bryce Harper’s hitting coach for one year in 2018 in Washington, before the 2010 No. 1 overall pick signed his 13-year/$330M free agent deal with the Phillies.
“I’m excited to work with Bryce. I have always admired Bryce, I have always enjoyed my time with Bryce. He is an exceptional talent,” Long said.
He called Harper in the Phillies’ slugger’s Las Vegas home to let him know about his new job.
“We talked over the phone,” Long said.
“I was in San Diego and he was in Vegas, and I just told him that he was going to have a familiar hitting coach, and he said, ‘I just got goosebumps,’ and I said, ‘Good, me too.’
“So we’re excited to be reunited.”