Philly Sports Live

Last Hurrah for Uncle Charlie?


The year was 2005 and the Philadelphia Phillies were an enigma. Former player and manager Larry Bowa had been hired by the club in 2000 to replace Terry Francona and bring fire and passion to an organization that sorely needed it.

Francona’s signature phrase in Philly was, “We’ll win when we’re supposed to.” That never happened. Though not blessed with a fat wallet to buy talent with, Francona’s laid back style landed his team in the National League East basement year after year.

Bowa’s fiery, competitive nature netted the team its first winning season since 1993. But that’s as far as the winning would go. One player likened playing for Bowa to walking on eggshells. Players were often so leery of making errors and striking out, that it affected their play.

Bowa was gone after the 2004 season, having brought the team out of the cellar, but not into the postseason. The team had hired Charlie Manuel as a special assistant to the general manager a few years prior, and he was tapped as the team’s new manager.

Manuel won several division titles as manager in Cleveland, while developing a very close relationship with former Phils and Indians slugger Jim Thome. He’s a hitting guru with a long lasting love of the game.

All Manuel has done in his time as manager is win five division titles, two national league championships, and ultimately, one World Series championship. He delivered the city its first championship in 25 years, and their first baseball championship in 28 years.

His 727 wins as Phillies skipper are the most all time, 81 more than Gene Mauch and 390 more than Bowa for good measure. His players love him, and he believes in his players. They work hard for him. Charlie’s philosophy is simple; hustle and give him your best. Lack of hustle has often been met with punishment, as well it should.

For all he’s accomplished, Manuel has earned the right to go out on his own terms. With his core group of players getting up there in years, his window of opportunity to win is slowly coming to a close. What makes things a tiny bit awkward here is the emergence of hall of famer Ryne Sandberg.

Sandberg began his managing career in the Cubs organization. He started in 2007 as manager of their Class-A team in Peoria, Illinois. His team went to the Single-A championship game. He was promoted to Double-A Tennessee in 2008, and again a year later to Triple-A Iowa. He was named Pacific Coast league Manager of the Year in 2010.

Upon former Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella stepping down, Sandberg interviewed, but was not hired or even offered a coaching position with the team. He was hired in 2010 by the Phillies to manage at Triple-A Lehigh, and promptly led them to their first ever playoff appearance.

Sandberg, of course, was drafted as a player by the Phillies and traded to Chicago where would have a hall of fame career at second base. Ryno’s minor league coaching stats speak for themselves. So much so, that he was promoted to the Phillies big league club where he’ll coach third base and serve as fielding instructor starting this season.

Now, does this guarantee success in the majors? No it does not. That being said, there is no way the team can let him get away again. As for Charlie, his contract is up after this season and it has yet to be extended. Ruben Amaro, Jr. has repeatedly stated that the team is not committed to Sandberg as Manuel’s successor, but it just makes too much sense.

Charlie Manuel helped mold this team from a largely unsuccessful one, to a perennial championship contender. To his credit, he has always told it like it is. He’ll defend his players, but if they’re not hitting, or hustling, he’ll say so. He’ll call them on it, and again, he quietly commands respect.

Respect, in turn, is what the club must show him as they try for one more shot at the World Series.

He knows his time is running out, but he should not be pushed out the door.

I had the chance to attend spring training from 2005 to 2008, and then again in 2011. In that time I watched Manuel go from being booed every time he stepped out to make a pitching change, to being cheered lovingly every time he strolled by the crowd at Brighthouse Field.

Quite the turnaround from a fan base whose love doesn’t come easy.

During his career, Manuel spent time playing in Japan. With players of today strolling to the plate to a song of their choice, Charlie was asked if he had that privilege in his playing days. He said that he did, though he was not able to choose his song in Japan, it was picked for him. While the Japanese terminology escapes me, Manuel said that his song translated to this, “There’s this thing that you do, and you do it good.”

Charlie has done a world of good for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he will do down as the team’s greatest manager.

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