Philadelphia skipper Rob Thomson became the first Canadian to manage a Major League Baseball game in his home country when the Phillies played the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
The native of Sarnia, Ont., has served as interim manager since Joe Girardi was fired June 3 after a 22-29 start.
“It’s great to be home. I love coming back here,” Thomson said in a pre-game availability at Rogers Centre. “I love the ballpark, especially when the roof is open. I’m going to have a lot of family and friends here.
“It means a lot. It really does.”
Thomson lives in the small town of Sebringville, Ont., outside of Stratford, about a 90-minute drive from downtown Toronto. He’s the first Canadian full-time manager since George Gibson of London, Ont., managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934.
Toronto’s Arthur Irwin, who managed five teams between 1889 and 1899, is the only other Canadian to serve as a full-time skipper.
Thomson took a 24-12 record as Phillies manager into the opener of the two-game interleague series.
“We’ve been playing well now for a while,” he said. “This is kind of what we expected coming out of spring training. I’m not saying I have anything to do with it. I think this is just [how] we expected [the team was] going to play.”
Thomson, 58, was a standout player for the Intercounty League’s Stratford Hillers in the early 1980s and represented Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when baseball was a demonstration sport.
The catcher/third baseman was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1985 and reached the class-A level. He turned to minor-league coaching and joined the New York Yankees’ system in 1990.
Thomson moved to the big-league staff in 2004 and served as Girardi’s bench coach with the Yankees in 2008. He managed three games in Girardi’s absence that season, becoming the first Canadian to manage a big-league game since Gibson.
He was hired by the Phillies before the 2018 campaign and made a smooth transition last month from bench coach to manager, winning his first eight games to help Philadelphia get into the National League wild-card race.
“The transition was a little bit tough because of Joe Girardi being let go and my relationship with Joe,” Thomson said. “We’ve got a bond that will never be broken. Joe and I were so close and had been through so many things.
“I felt like being a bench coach, you’re kind of responsible for taking care of your manager. And so I felt like I kind of let him down in a way. But the game goes on and so when they offered me the job, I would have been foolish to turn it down.”
Thomson was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.