A Tribute to Charlie Manuel

Copyright Philly Sports Central

Copyright Philly Sports Central

On Friday afternoon Charlie Manuel stepped down as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies after the team informed him of their decision not to renew his contract beyond the end of the 2013 season. Manuel had just won his 1,000th game as a manager and he sits atop the Phillies all time list for managerial wins, in addition to having lead the team to its second World Series title back in 2008. Although Manuel wasn’t widely expected to continue in his role for next season the timing of the move was a surprise and didn’t allow Phillies supporters to show their appreciation of Manuel’s efforts before he stepped down. I want to show my gratitude for Manuel’s work during his nine seasons with the team, however, and will do so in this article. I could use these words to explain why the teams poor performance is general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s fault as opposed to Manuel’s, but I’ll save that rant for another day.

When the Phillies hired Manuel at the conclusion of the 2004 season the move was greeted with caution and indifference. Manuel had enjoyed mild success with the Cleveland Indians towards the end of the twentieth century, largely thanks to a devastating offence containing sluggers such as Jim Thome and Manny Ramierez. Manuel received praise for his work as a hitting guru while with the Indians, and had been working with the Phillies as a hitting instructor and special assistant to the GM before he was hired as Larry Bowa’s replacement. The Phillies were coming off a season in which they had at one point led the National League east, only to be pegged back by the Atlanta Braves and also lose out on wild card entry into the post season. It was widely thought that Manuel was primarily hired because of his relaxed, laid back approach that would hopefully get the best out of the same players who had failed to respond to Bowa’s fierce intensity. Manuel’s relationship with Thome was also cited as beneficcial, and it was hoped that he could get the best out of the aging first baseman. However Thome was injured halfway through the 2005 season and in his place a young Ryan Howard emerged with a Rookie of the Year season that would prompt Thome’s trade to the Chicago White Sox later that winter.

History would eventually tell us that Manuel did indeed bring out the best of what had previously been an under-achieving core of players. Jimmy Rollins productivity reached new heights, including his legendary MVP season in 2007, Pat Burrell became a consistent run producer until his departure following the 2008 World Series, Chase Utley evolved into the best second baseman in the game and Ryan Howard erupted into an elite power hitter, winning the NL MVP in 2006 thanks to a 58 home run outburst. Manuel was also responsible for Jayson Werth’s surprise development into a top-tier outfielder, with Werth having struggled to make an impact in the majors before the Phillies picked him up on the cheap. Carlos Ruiz was another Manuel success story as the catcher peaked in 2012 hitting .330, after he had battled to hit above the Mendoza line during the opening couple of years of his major league career. Of course, Manuel was fortunate to inherit such talented hitters to work with. But he succeeded where others had failed and the strength of the lineup was what helped the Philliies reach the post season after a 14 years absence 2007 and win the World Series for the first time since 1981 in 2008.

As the Phillies became perennial NL east winners from 2007 until 2011 the teams hitting gradually regressed to league average and pitching became its strength. Cole Hamels was joined in the rotation by first Cliff Lee and then Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, creating ‘the four aces’. Manuel often let all four pitch deep into games, and while it took little in the way of managerial innovation he deserves praise for simply letting his players do their jobs and not ‘over-managing’.

Perhaps Manuel’s finest moments came during the teams memorable 2008 season. While the lineup scored plenty of runs the pitching staff relied heavily on Hamels and newly acquired closer Brad Lidge. Lidge went a perfect 47 for 47 in save opportunities that year as Manuel used him almost exclusively for one inning at a time. However, when it came to the National League championship series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Manuel decided the time was right in game four to bring Lidge in for a four out save, which he duly completed. In the same game Manuel used Matt Stairs as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, when the veteran lefty promptly launched a solo bomb to break a 1-1 tie. During that play-off run Manuel adjusted his lineup against left-handed pitching by moving Chase Utley into the number two hole as opposed to hitting third, another move that came off when Utley hit a two run homer in the first inning of World Series game one against then Tampa Bay southpaw Scott Kazmir. All of these moves may look small, and they were, but as a major league manager it’s often the minor moves that make all the difference and in this case they certainly did.

During that same play-off run Manuel’s mother passed away. Several stories about their relationship emerged, including how she would check up on him every day to find out how his teams were getting on. The story added a human element to a statistical sport, and further highlighted Manuel’s popularity with those close to him – including his players, and made the teams achievements that October even more remarkable. Manuel wasn’t a tactical magician, though he had his moments, and he isn’t the most eloquent speaker during press conference

s. He doesn’t have Bowa or Ryne Sandberg’s pedigree as a player. He is incredibly popular in Japan for his time spent playing there, where he excelled after a middling major league career. But his hitting expertise in addition to his calm demeanour helped get the best out of his players during the most successful era in Phillies history. He won with teams that hit. He won with teams with great pitching. And he won more games than any  other manager in the Phillies long history which began in 1883. From an unheralded hire in 2004 Manuel became a Philadelphia legend. And for that, he deserves mine and every other Phillies fans appreciation.

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