John Frederick Felske (born May 30, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois) is a former catcher, coach and manager in American Major League Baseball.
He was the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies from September 30, 1984, through June 18, 1987, posting a record of 190 victories and 194 defeats (.495).
After attending the University of Illinois, Felske signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1961, but his shortcomings as a batter—and the durability of Chicago backstop Randy Hundley—kept him at the minor league level except for two at bats in the middle of the 1968 season.
He was drafted by the Seattle Pilots in December 1969, and played a total of 50 games over the 1972 and 1973 seasons for the Pilots' successor franchise, the Milwaukee Brewers, as third-string receiver. Overall, Felske, a right-handed hitter, batted only .135 in his major league career, with one home run.
In 1974, Felske turned his hand to managing in the Milwaukee farm system, reaching the Class AAA level in 1977. After winning the division title with the 1979 Vancouver Canadians of the Pacific Coast League, Felske was named as the bullpen coach for the Toronto Blue Jays under skipper Bobby Mattick for 1980 and 1981. When Mattick stepped down in favor of Bobby Cox, Felske joined the Philadelphia farm system, and won another PCL divisional title in 1983 with the Portland Beavers.
He was promoted to the Phillies' coaching staff for the 1984 season as heir apparent to their skipper Paul Owens, who also was the club's general manager. Owens resigned his managing post September 30 of that season, and Felske took over the helm. Unfortunately for Felske, the Phillies—1983 National League champions—were in rapid decline. Hall of Fame left-hander Steve Carlton was coming to the end of his career, and youngsters called up to replace these aging veterans fell short of expectations.
The 1985 Phillies won only 75 games, and Felske bore the brunt of criticism from fans and media. While the 1986 club improved to second place in the NL East Division and 86 wins, it finished 21½ games behind the frontrunning rival and eventual champion New York Mets. Meanwhile, the team's front office turned over with Owens' retirement. In 1987, when the Phils won only 29 of their first 61 games on their way to a fourth-place finish, Felske was fired June 18.
By Dean Hanley
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