Manuel graced Phillies with wisdom and dignity
Charlie Manuel understands how things work. If 50 years in professional baseball gives a man anything, it's perspective. He knows that managers -- even really good managers, even really decent people -- eventually must leave. He has seen it happen to countless others. Heck, it's the second time for Charlie.
Charlie landed on his feet after the Indians let him go in 2002, and he'll do just fine this time, too. His being 69 years old will not help him land another managerial gig, but don't shed tears for Charlie.
For one thing, there aren't many baseball men held in higher regard than Charlie, and isn't that about the highest compliment you can pay someone? Everyone who has ever played for Charlie, worked for Charlie or covered Charlie knows he's about as stand-up a guy as has been in the business.
One of the most enjoyable things you can do in Spring Training is watch players and coaches from the other team stream onto the field searching for Charlie before a game. They'd either played with him or against him, or maybe managed against him.
Maybe they'd just gotten to know Charlie through the years, and like most of the rest of us, they thought spending a few minutes with him would be about the best part of their day. No matter where Charlie goes from here after being replaced by the Phillies on Friday afternoon, he can take the respect and admiration of others with him for the rest of his days on earth.
Here's the other part of this deal. Charlie can hold his head up. You bet he can. The Phils have never had a more successful manager than Charlie. Good luck chasing those 780 victories, Ryne Sandberg.
Charlie's players loved the man. They knew Charlie always had their backs. They also knew not to cross Charlie. When Philadelphia won five straight division championships, the club set the bar real high in terms of professionalism and playing hard and paying attention to detail.
There was an admirable competitive fire about those teams. That stemmed from having players like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, but it was part of Charlie's deal, too. Charlie trusted his guys, but just as Bobby Cox did in Atlanta and Tony La Russa in St. Louis and other places, his players understood what was expected of them. Charlie was always real clear about that.
As the Phillies fell out of contention the past two years, fans got on Charlie for his in-game decisions. He sent this guy up to pinch-hit when everyone in the park knew he should have sent up that other guy. And why did Charlie keep running those terrible relievers out there?
Charlie understands that all that criticism is fair. It comes with losing. Second-guessing a manager is one of the best parts of this sport. If he'd only done this or that, our club would be better.
Only thing is, that's not really what managing is about in 2013. Front offices -- OK, many front offices -- are so sophisticated that they make reams of data available to their managers to help with his lineups, strategic decisions and defensive alignments. Some clubs obviously are more advanced than others.
Fans like to criticize the Yankees' Joe Girardi for constantly referring to "the binder," but that's what he's supposed to do. As one general manager told me, "Our manager can do anything he wants. All we ask is that he have a reason for doing what he does."
Charlie's strength was in dealing with people. That is, giving them confidence, talking them through the tough times and getting them to buy into a team-first concept. No manager ever was better at that than Charlie.
Charlie's other strength was hitting. He could talk it, teach it, instill it. He was one of the best ever at understanding the concepts of the swing and getting players in a good spot.
As for running a pitching staff and deciding when to steal and all that stuff, Charlie always had a first-rate coaching staff to assist him. This is no knock on Charlie because every manager has strengths and weaknesses. Do you think La Russa leaned on his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, a few times through the years? Sure, he did.
Charlie had to know the clock was ticking. He wasn't hired by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and at some point, every GM wants his own guy in the dugout. Charlie had made it clear at various times that he wanted to continue, but as things spiraled downward, he surely knew this day was coming.
On the other hand, what did Amaro expect of this club? Roy Halladay has made seven starts. Ryan Howard has played 80 games. Delmon Young, signed to play right field, has been released. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has struggled with a loss of velocity. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan haven't filled out the rotation the way they were expected to fill it out.
It's difficult to imagine Earl Weaver or Sparky Anderson getting more out of this team than Charlie got. Maybe Sandberg will have some ideas about getting Halladay and Howard back on the field, about getting Papelbon back to pitching at a high level and filling out the rotation.
Those are good discussions for another day. This day ought to be about Charlie Manuel, who for almost nine seasons graced Philadelphia with his wisdom and dignity. Charlie would be the first to tell you he was lucky that former Phillies GM Ed Wade gave him a chance. But the Phils were lucky, too. Real lucky.