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Charlie Manuel: An Appreciation

Aug 21, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT


from “The Phillie Phanatic’s Parade of Champions” by Tom Burgoyne and illustrator Len Epstein

I remember a lot about Charlie Manuel’s early days as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Mostly that people sure didn’t like him, at all.

The 2005 team, in Manuel’s first season, were the Bobby Abreu/Kenny Lofton/David Bell Phillies, the Ed Wade-built team that a whole lot of fans couldn’t stand despite yearly winning records. And that extended to the manager.

He was as un-Philly as can be, a man who didn’t talk or act anything like a “Philly guy.” He was 60 when he was hired but could have passed for a decade older. Manuel spoke with a heavy regional accent of a region that is not ours, he made head-scratching strategic moves, and never explained them to anyone’s satisfaction in the postgame press conference. Even though the ’05 Phils won 88 games and weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until the final day of the season, Charlie finished his first season far from a popular man.

Manuel followed Larry Bowa who, though a California native, was a longtime ex-Phillies player and veteran of the 1980 team who had an Italian-American surname, which sort of made him an honorary “Philly guy,” unsuccessful as his managerial tenure was. Bowa had also been a member of the media in the past — a vocation to which he’s since returned — and had some fans in that constituency.

In the first couple of years, a whole lot of fans either wished the Phils had kept Bowa and fired Ed Wade, or hired Jim Leyland instead of Charlie. And remember that weird conspiracy theory about how Manuel was only hired, first as hitting coach and then as manager, as some sort of backroom deal to appease Jim Thome?

Charlie had that postgame shouting match with Howard Eskin, and he fought septuagenarian ex-manager Dallas Green on the field before a game, in an incident I dubbed “Age in the Cage.” Even Charlie’s longtime fiancé lashed out at the city’s “culture of negativity,” in a much-forgotten episode right after the end of the 2005 season.

But after ’05, Charlie was retained and Wade was fired. I remember when Pat Gillick was hired as general manager, and the talk radio conventional wisdom was that the Phils were now run by two out-of-town old guys. At one point, as the team struggled early in the ’06 season, it looked like Charlie’s firing could be imminent.

But then, suddenly, everything turned around. The team fought back and won the NL East in ’07, overtaking the collapsing Mets on the last day of the season to end a 14-year postseason drought.

The next year, of course, they won the World Series, and Charlie showed up in the parade in a dapper suit. Three more NL East titles followed as the Phils established themselves as one of baseball’s elite franchises.

Tsource:  here was still grumbling about in-game moves, of course. But after ’08, most Phillies fans were pretty firmly on Team Charlie. Championships, after all, have a way of reversing bad first impressions. I always felt like the original rejection of Charlie Manuel had a lot more to do with the way he looked and talked than his actual skill as a manager, and over time fans got used to that.

And now he’s out the door, the victim of having to manage a roster abominably constructed by GM Ruben Amaro, full of past-their-prime veterans, ill-advised free agent signees and non-prospects up from the farm. Sure, he was likely gone at the end of the year anyway. But it’s still sad to see his Phillies tenure end the way it did. Manuel is the first manager fired at midseason from a team he won the World Series with since the Diamondbacks whacked Bob Brenly in 2004.

Of course Manuel made questionable strategic moves, and that continued throughout his career. But you know what? Name a great manager who didn’t. Almost every manager in the majors uses their closer wrong and at least occasionally makes head-scratching decisions about the batting order and which pinch hitter to use. Don’t believe me? Ask any fan of any team. And Charlie’s inability to understand the double switch was always overstated. I think he had it figured out by May or June of his first year.

How well managers “get players to play for them” is hard to quantify, of course, but Charlie seemed to do all the little, behind-the-scenes things right. There was virtually never clubhouse turmoil on Manuel’s Phillies and if there was, you never heard about it in the press. You never once heard a departed player trash Charlie on the way out of town.

And I don’t want to hear any of this nonsense about how Charlie Manuel or the Phillies should be ashamed that they “only won one World Series.” Winning a World Series is pretty damned hard, requiring a great deal of skill as well as luck. To denigrate the achievement of the 2008 title is to minimize what happened that fall which — I think we can all agree — was pretty damned awesome. That argument reminds me of the people who discounted the first six years of Donovan McNabb’s career because “the NFC East was weak then.”

Charlie Manuel won a World Series, got to another, led the team to five straight division titles and a 102-win season, and is the 130-year-old organization’s all-time winningest manager. He’s the only man on the planet who has coached or managed a Philadelphia sports team to a championship in the last 25 years. Does he deserve singular credit for those achievements? Of course not. But they didn’t happen by accident either, and he had to have been doing something right.

It says a lot, however, that Phillies fans were nearly unanimous in reacting to Charlie’s firing with either anger, sadness or both. Back in 2006, I wouldn’t have guessed it would happen that way or, for that matter, that he wouldn’t be fired for seven more years.

What’s next? If Charlie wrote a memoir of his decades in the game, I’d absolutely read it. For all he was mocked for his drawl, I’d love to see him give broadcasting a shot. I could see some club, maybe one with a younger manager, bringing Charlie in as a bench coach. And it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he gets another managing job.

Charlie Manuel is part of a vanishing breed in the game — the pure baseball lifer. He came up as a player in the  late 1960s and has been around the game in a variety of capacities ever since. Read Mark Bechtel’s great Sports Illustrated profile of Charlie from June 2009, if you haven’t before — some great stories, and even greater appreciation for the man.

Most of all, Charlie proved that you don’t necessarily have to be a “Philly guy” to succeed in Philly.

Stephen Silver is  a local journalist who writes for EntertainmentTell and Philadelphia magazine’s Philly Post. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver

  1. Andrew - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    The moment that aided in changing my mind about Charlie was the first time he benched Jimmy for not hustling (’06, was it?).
    I couldn’t stand the man as a manager until that point, and that was the first thing I remember him doing that I fully agreed with.
    I remember the nicknames he was given early on (Chuckles, Good Times Charlie, Charlie from Mayberry, etc) but when he did that, he took charge of the players and sent a message that said “Your BS won’t be tolerated. Come to the park and be ready to play your face off for three hours, or else go home.”
    He benched the de facto leader of the team for not hustling, and I pin that moment as not only the moment I started to change my mind about him, but also as the moment the team turned around.

    • willh888 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      2008 I believe. Did it again a few years later

  2. Brian - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    An excellent post. Thanks for this…

  3. sfsu - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Yes, most managers use their closer wrong, but almost all the closers under Manuel appeared in the 8th inning more frequently under other managers than they did with Manuel.

    Francona used Papelbon a lot more often in the 8th than Manuel did, and by the time he started to do it in 2012, it was too late, partially because he didn’t start doing it earlier in the season.

    The fact that JC Romero had more plate appearances against RHBs than LHBs on a regular basis says it all — almost no other manager misuses their LH specialist to that severe of a degree.

    It’s funny how people laugh off Manuel’s in-game moves, as if benching Rollins on a random occasion (let’s all ignore the quotes from Halladay that accuse Manuel of letting players show up late with no consequence) is more of a MOTIVATION than actual matchups on the field.

    Manuel was a “victim” of a poorly constructed team in 2012 and 2013, but he certainly wasn’t a “huge beneficiary” of a well-constructed team in 2008. I mean, he benched Rollins dammit!!

    Brad Lidge went 48 for 48 because Manuel is a nice guy, and David Akers misses playoff FGs because Andy Reid is mean to the media.

    • Andrew - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM

      That’s not what I meant at all, and you know it. Of course the fact of Charlie being a nice guy or a tough guy doesn’t directly lead to wins. If that were the case, Charlie would have never lost a game, and Tony LaRussa never would have won a game.
      But what did benching Rollins do? It sent a message. Rollins’ lackadaisical play WAS a problem at times, and since he was the de facto leader of the team, that attitude could have spread quickly throughout the clubhouse. But it didn’t . Why? Because it was made clear that that type of attitude wouldn’t fly. Even if it didn’t need to be said, it told the players “You don’t play for Jimmy, you play for me.” Hard work breeds success. RH/LH matchups or other inevitable bad matchups can be overcome if you’re better than the other person. Despite his shortcomings as a manager (and we all agree he had them), he got hard work and dedication out of his players, and that brought a lot of success; the kind the franchise had never seen in its previous 130 years.
      It’s like your job. You can go in the office every morning, do the bare minimum Office Space-style, and stay where you are for a long time (a la a .500 team). Or your boss can be demanding and get hard work out of you, and you and your team are more successful, the business grows, and you move on up the ladder. And if your boss is affable, you’re more likely to not mind working for him, and you may even enjoy it.
      So yeah, of course being nice doesn’t win ballgames. But trimming the fat and hard work does.

      I’m not here to fluff Charlie, but to dismiss his whole body of work because he wasn’t a master tactician is narrow-minded and probably trolling.

      • sfsu - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:37 PM

        To dismiss his managerial mistakes because he wasn’t an a-hole like Bobby Valentine is just as narrow-minded.

        Good managers combine the off-the-field motivation (which is impossible to quantify) with the ability to manage their teams properly once the game starts.

        Manuel had 1 out of 2, which is apparently good enough for sainthood in this town

      • Andrew - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:52 PM

        I didn’t dismiss his mistakes, and admitted that he had his shortcomings. It seems that you’re just on a mission to sully his legacy. They guy got a World Series win, and could have had two. For many of us, that was the first championship of any kind we had celebrated.
        We’re not canonizing the guy, we’re just paying tribute to the guy who helped usher in an era of success never before seen. He certainly deserves a tip of the cap and a “fare thee well” more than a diagnosis of his recent failures. We all scratched our heads at one time or another because of a move he made, and yes, it was time for for a new manager, if not now than at the end of the year. That doesn’t make his tenure any less wholly successful.

    • Ryan Sean Heron - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:14 PM

      romero wasn’t a lefty specialist. he was a full time 7th inning guy.

      • sfsu - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        …which was the problem. Check out how bad he was against righties and then try to defend Manuel’s use of him

    • dku5 - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      I agree that Manuel was not perfect.

      Papelbon also had ERAs close to or above 3.0 in his last two years in Boston. This is hard to reason, as he ws better with Philly. You want to take advantage of a streak, but keep in mind that the more opportuinites provided, the more likely he will move towards the average. Thus, he is pitching well in the 9th, why jeapordize it and move him to the 8th? Add to this, if he pitches his 3.00 in the 8th, who is gonna follow him in the 9th?

      The fact that JC Romero had more plate appearances against RHBs than LHBs on a regular basis may also be supported by the evidence that there are more RHB in MLB, and it may be contributed to the DH other teams used at the time Romero was pitching.

      Other managers did not have the Phillies bullpen, good or bad, and thus comparing the decisions of Charlie Manuel, Ozzie Guillen, Dusty Baker, Bobby Cox, etc is not valid, as they were managing differnt players under different circumstances.

    • willh888 - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      attributing a managers success to a “well constructed team” is a cheap ol cop out. Lots of good teams fail every year. Look at the current Tigers. How Leyland can’t win with that team is simply amazing. Ron Washington must be a buffoon too. Oh he doesn’t have an accent AND he wears glasses? Genius. Joe Madden? Genius. The most successful manager in Phillies history? Dumb. He used JC Romero instead of Chad Durbin or Clay Condrey in the 7th. Even though Romero had less IP than both of those clowns, Charlie must have over used him. Or maybe it’s your imagination remembering those 6 times Romero was left in to face a righty instead of pitching Rudy Seanez against a lefty.

      • sfsu - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM

        Then…attributing a manager’s failures to a poorly constructed team is just as cheap a cop out.

      • willh888 - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        dude you can’t put square wheels on a ferrari. You can’t sprinkle magic dust on this group and expect results. You rely on black and white, this or that arguments to judge him as whole. When he had a good team, they won divisions, pennants and one world series. When he had a bad team.. he got fired.

      • sfsu - Aug 22, 2013 at 7:02 PM

        Right! So he had very little to do with the production on the field. Glad we agree that his impact on the team has been overstated in recent days.

  4. Ryan Sean Heron - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Charlie’s fiance is still right about the “culture of negativity”. I’ve been fighting the negadelphians for decades on this. I’m an upbeat person. and I love this city. I think it’s one of the best cities in the nation. but sometimes the negativity of people around here just gets me down. ppl love to wallow in their sorrows here.

    • The Polish Punch - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      This x1000

  5. Chopperdaddy - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Andy Martino wrote a really nice piece about Charlie for the NYDN. Unsure if the link will show, but here goes:

  6. Mike - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    Charlie is not a “victim”. He was payed well and mostly did enough to win. The last two years has been a mix of terrible GMing, bad managing, aging players and complacency. Can we stop cannonizing this guy already? 2008 was great, but it was half a decade ago, not last week. I really didn’t think he should have come back for this season, but he did and the team was horrendous. Not only because of injury and age but they are incredibly sloppy in the field and on the based while being completely undisciplined at the plate. I guess Charlie deserves no blame for any of that.

  7. BenE. - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Charlie as a broadcaster? Oh boy…

    “I think you got to, uh like, I look at, you know the situation here and I see that there’s like, a lefty warming up, and I think that, what I’m saying is like, Wheels needs to shut up.”

    I’m gonna miss Charlie, though. Great article. I’ve never seen any sports figure in this town go from being so disliked to so loved. Even McNabb was never afforded that luxury.

    • Hiccup - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:17 AM

      I would take Charlie over Wheels any day of the week in the broadcast booth. Any day. Please!

    • willh888 - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      I dont know.. we love LA and he talks a bit slow along with getting fired up. Sounds like Charlie

  8. Steve Kusheloff - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    Re: “…a roster abominably constructed by GM Ruben Amaro, full of past-their-prime veterans, ill-advised free agent signees and non-prospects up from the farm…”

    That’s the Phillies’ problems in a nutshell.

    My only big gripe about Charlie was how he completely rested the team for nine games after they clinched the NL East in 2011. The engine, which had been purring pretty good, just stopped. Yeah, they came back to beat the reeling Braves three in a row, but they never got their mojo back, and went into a hitting funk (which continues to this day) against the Cardinals.

    • BenE. - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      I agree, the foot should have stayed on the fucking gas in September 2011. And I don’t wanna hear about how long the season is. If you play 150 games, you can play 12 more. The playoff schedule is easier anyway.

    • willh888 - Aug 21, 2013 at 9:13 PM

      oy, hindsight. If he doesn’t rest anyone and they falter in the playoffs at any point, an equal amount of people will say “blarrrg why didnt he rest anyone dats smart baseball yo.” Cards were good enough to win the WS. Phils usual story.. eliminated by the champs three years in a row

      • sfsu - Aug 21, 2013 at 9:46 PM

        Agreed. Out of all the things you can criticize Manuel for…giving his players rest in 2011 is actually an issue? Unreal.

        They rested at the end of the 2011 regular season, and you know what they did in the first game of the playoffs? They scored 11 runs. Then they scored 4 early in game 2. They lost because Oswalt broke down, and they couldnt hit Jackson or Carpenter in games 4/5. Who cares? Playoffs 2009 and 2010 have much more evidence against Manuel than 2011.

    • Hiccup - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:24 AM

      I remember that long stretch from closing day to the first round of playoffs and an announcer/analyst said,” this might not be good for the team,” and I thought,” no it isn’t, makes no sense to me.” and history shows that maybe some practice or simulated games might of been good. Another bad call by Charlie? Still no reason for firing him.

  9. G_E - Aug 21, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    You can pound beers with Uncle Cholly on Friday night at the Field House – 5pm.

  10. Hiccup - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:57 AM

    Charlie was the perfect fit for this club in those/ these times and to let him go or fire him in the manner they did is a disgrace to the team and the city. How can one justify firing someone on the day of celebration of the 1,000 victories for the coach that brought the World Series trophy back to Philadelphia , the city of brotherly love?

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