Sandberg replaces Manuel as Phillies manager
Skipper led team to five division titles, 2008 World Series win in nine seasons
PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr.'s eyes already looked bloodshot moments before he entered the media room Friday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
It had been an emotional day for the Phillies' general manager.
Amaro had been preparing to announce he had relieved manager Charlie Manuel of his duties. The men actually had agreed on Manuel's fate Wednesday in Atlanta, but the two had kept the news quiet until the Phillies announced a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference. Manuel, who won more games than any other manager in Phillies history -- leading the organization to a World Series championship in 2008, two National League pennants and five National League East titles in eight-plus seasons -- was out. Ryne Sandberg was in as interim manager.
"I just want to say this," Amaro said as he began to choke up. "You people may not know the relationship I've had with Charlie. He's a special person. This is difficult for me. I hope he stays in our organization."
Amaro and Manuel sat together and spoke for nearly 30 minutes, answering questions about the decision, about where the organization is headed, about Sandberg's abilities to manage in the big leagues and what the future holds for Manuel.
Amaro said he recently informed Manuel, whose contract expires after the season, he would not return in 2014. That was not a surprise. The front office had been talking about different scenarios regarding Manuel for weeks, and most people expected Amaro to make a change following the season. But it was a bit of a surprise it came Friday.
Amaro said he decided to pull the plug because he did not consider it fair to have Manuel finish the season knowing he would not be back, and he also wanted to give a good look at Sandberg, who is the heavy favorite to get the job on a full-time basis.
"I think Charlie understands the decision, and that fact that we were making a managerial change, that it was in the best interest of the future of the organization," he said. "As we talked a little further, it became evident that the best course of action was to make this change immediately as we begin the transition by offering the position to Ryne Sandberg on an interim basis. Charlie understood this decision. Making this change is not easy for me. Not easy for me, personally, and not easy for the organization. But it's a change I think the Phillies need to make as we look toward the future."
Manuel, 69, indicated he understood, but he also made it clear it was not his decision.
"I didn't resign and I did not quit," he said. "Let me tell you something, I've never quit anything. And I didn't resign. I think it was an understanding that we've got going. ... I looked at everything we talked about, and believe me, we talked about everything. We talked about our club and our organization, and of course, myself. I'll say this -- the decision definitely came from our organization, but at the same time I definitely wanted to put my team and also the Philadelphia Phillies above myself. ... I think a new face, a new voice, a new look, it might help us. Our team hasn't been playing too good, as you know."
Entering Friday, the Phillies had lost 19 of their last 23 games to put them on pace for their first losing season since 2002.
Of course, a manager can only do so much. The Phillies have had injuries the past couple of seasons, but they also have not had the talent needed to continue their postseason run. Many of the organization's personnel decisions have not worked.
Manuel's dismissal turns more attention to Amaro, who replaced Pat Gillick following the 2008 World Series.
"We win as an organization and we lose as an organization," Amaro said. "We're kind of in this thing together. This isn't a blame game. I'm not here to blame Charlie Manuel for our issues. I think we all have some responsibility in that regard, I think there are a lot of things that's happened in the last two years that've been unfortunate. My job is to think about what we can do to get better in the future, and I believe this is one of the steps to try to move this thing forward. Again, I take responsibility for some of the things that have happened over the course of the last couple of years, but I do believe we're going to get things right, and back to where they need to be and bringing a quality and contending team to Philadelphia."
Sandberg will have 42 games to prove himself. While he might not have the talent to win, he will try to motivate his players.
"There have been signs of lackadaisical play," Sandberg said. "And getting the players re-interested in these games -- remind them that they are meaningful games -- I think will be part of the order."
Clearly, there are some unhappy players in the clubhouse. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has been the most vocal. For the first time in a long time the losing has caused disgruntlement in the clubhouse, with players pointing fingers.
If Sandberg can get the Phillies to focus their energies on the field instead of insignificant things off the field, it could be a huge win for him.
"I think he's got the qualities to be a quality Major League manager, but time will tell how he handles this situation," Amaro said. "We are looking for someone who understands what we want to do in the front office, as well as on the field. We are looking for someone who understands there's a process, and who understands that not all the decisions that are made are perfect, but we are analyzing that still today on what kind of manager we would like to have. The manager has to fit the club and the club has to fit the manager, sometimes. As we constitute our club on the field, we'll be thinking about that and finding the right person to move us forward."
Amaro said there is a chance they could hire Sandberg on a full-time basis immediately following the season, but he also left open the possibility he will interview others.
Manuel left the ballpark shortly after the news conference. He said during his introductory news conference in November 2004 that he was a 24 hours-a-day baseball guy. He ate, drank and slept baseball. He said that will not change, although he said he will take some time off going forward as he contemplates the future.
"I cannot explain to you what the last nine years have meant to me," Manuel said. "I've had some of the greatest times of my life, Philadelphia has been the highlight of my career. I love everything about the fans, I love the city. I'm mad because they took the best seat in the house away from me. And I've been sitting there watching the games every day, watching the Phillies play, something that I love. I'll just leave it right there. That's how I feel about it. I enjoyed everything about it."