PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel planned to celebrate this past Christmas in Florida. He found himself on a medical transport to Philadelphia on Christmas Eve instead.
Manuel, 76, had what should have been a routine stomach surgery in Winter Haven, Fla., on Dec. 16. He suffered complications almost immediately. His body battled infection and major colon issues. He required emergency surgery Dec. 19. It looked bleak. Manuel’s wife Missy told family to come to Florida. She called a close friend at the Phillies. Be prepared, she said.
“I was scared,” Charlie said Tuesday, back home in Winter Haven. “I looked up, all my grandkids and my kin were there. That got my attention.”
Manuel’s harrowing health scare explains why he missed just his second Spring Training since he signed with the Twins out of Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista, Va., in 1963. But there are worse things than missing Spring Training. Manuel is alive. He is feeling better. He is taking walks every day with Missy and regaining his strength. He is talking hitting and he is watching whatever baseball he can find on TV.
He is eager to return to the ballpark, whenever that is.
“I want to see people in the game. I miss them,” Manuel said. “When someone like [Pat] Gillick or [Larry] Bowa calls, I get excited. I miss being on the field. I miss the players.”
Manuel has an extensive medical history. He’s lived through heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, kidney cancer, diverticulitis and Type-2 diabetes. He managed with a colostomy bag for a month in Cleveland. He survived it all. He came out of the Dec. 19 surgery OK, but he remained in the ICU. Somebody called Phillies managing partner John Middleton. Manuel was in bad shape. There were concerns. Middleton called the Manuels and offered to fly them to Philadelphia to get the best doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on the case. They accepted.
“It was a warm feeling,” Manuel said. “The fact that John Middleton arranged for that -- I spoke to him and I tried to express myself. I thanked him. Hopefully it got across. I’ve gotten to know him the last two summers. I’ve always respected him and the Buck family. I big-time appreciate everything he did. It makes me feel good that someone would do something like that for me.”
Manuel got discharged from Thomas Jefferson on Dec. 28. He was staying at a Center City hotel, when he suffered a setback on Dec. 30. He returned to the emergency room. He went 10 days without food. He did rehab work at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.
The winningest manager in Phillies history had visitors. Jim Thome and Aaron Rowand each flew in. Ed Wade, Milt Thompson, Rubén Amaro Jr., Larry Andersen, Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and others stopped by. Manuel got calls from players like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Bowa and his wife Patty visited several times a week. Gillick called often. On the days Gillick did not call, he called a Phillies friend to check on Manuel.
“I want our fans and the organization to know how much I appreciate them and love them,” Manuel said. “That makes my day go.”
The Manuels flew back to Florida on Jan. 19. He returned to Philadelphia for routine work earlier this month. He is getting better. He mentioned Tuesday that the temperature in central Florida was expected to hit 85 degrees.
Hittin’ weather, Charlie?
“It’s always hitting weather,” he said, laughing.
But Manuel needs to be careful. The 2020 season is postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manuel is smart. He is listening to the medical experts. He is staying home.
“I’m very scared,” he said about coronavirus. “I’m staying in the house unless I go for a walk. We stay away from crowds.”
He gets reminders from Gillick a few times a week.
“The other day he told me, ‘I don’t go out of my house because I don’t want to get this virus and I don’t want you to get it,’” Manuel said. “He calls two or three times a week.”
The details of Manuel’s friendships with Gillick and Bowa are two of the more heartwarming developments from this ordeal. Gillick and Manuel sometimes butted heads as general manager and manager from 2006-08. Manuel replaced Bowa as manager in '05.
“Being off the field these years, I think my knowledge of who Pat Gillick is has grown,” Manuel said. “I know more about him. He was very instrumental in my success. In the heat of the battle, you don’t get to know who the guy is, sometimes you have different ideas. You’re on the same team, but you’re not always close. Pat and I have gotten real close, and I really appreciate him.”
And Bowa? If Manuel and Bowa could act, they would be perfect for a buddy comedy. They could charge people to listen to them talk about baseball. They are that entertaining together.
“When we’re together, we could talk for hours,” Manuel said. “If we’re in the locker room, we’re kidding and joshing with people. I definitely have a lot of respect for him. I feel like I’ve got even more now. I love talking to him. To me, he’s a very close friend of mine.”
“They really truly care about each,” Missy said. “Larry was the best friend you could have.”
Manuel’s mind is back on baseball these days. He recently watched Dennis Martinez’s perfect game on TV. He watched the Mariners plays the Yankees in the 1995 postseason.
“I’ve been keeping up with our team,” Manuel said. “All the guys on our roster. I missed it. I really missed it. Sometimes when I think about it -- I miss, traveling to the Minors. The biggest thing I miss is talking to the players, coaches and managers, being around the guys, the media.
“I miss the game.”
Hopefully, baseball will be back soon. And hopefully, Manuel will be back with it.