Manuel: 'It means everything' to be back in Clearwater

February 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Charlie Manuel ambled down the left-field line Tuesday afternoon at BayCare Ballpark. He wanted to watch Zack Wheeler pitch to Bryce Harper and others in live batting practice.

The Phillies’ all-time winningest manager has always been easy to spot from a distance. Fans started yelling, clapping and cheering as soon as they saw him.

“Charlie! Charlie!”

He waved back.

Manuel, 80, suffered a stroke in September. At the time, everybody feared the worst. But Manuel fought and survived, and he is back at Spring Training watching and talking baseball, which is his favorite thing in the world.

He spent a few minutes on Tuesday talking about baseball and how it helped his recovery: How much does it mean to you to be in Clearwater this spring?
Charlie Manuel: Oh, everything. Seriously. I mean that. It means everything to me. Why?
Manuel: Because I just like baseball. I’m used to being at the ballpark. It’s just who I am. Does it mean more to you this year than in the past?
Manuel: I think it might mean a little more to me, because I think this is going to help me. I can be around the guys and be around the game. I can talk about the game. The atmosphere. I want to spend my time that way. Leaning against the cage is probably good for you.
Manuel: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s true. I get to watch guys swing a bat. I enjoy that. I want to see how they hit. I have fun being there. I know you worked hard to get your speech back. I know it wasn’t easy. But I heard you really got going whenever somebody talked baseball with you. Is that true?
Manuel: I couldn’t talk. I could hardly say my name. I wasn’t interested in anything. I was in speech class. I was like a kid: "See the ball, touch the dog." I didn’t enjoy saying anything because I was hurting. One day, my speech teacher, she brought in these Babe Ruth stats and things like that. All these great players. We started talking about baseball. I got interested and I started talking about the game. We started talking about records in baseball. Everything was about baseball. Pretty soon, I could say a lot of things. I enjoyed it. I laughed.

I remember I was having a bad day one day. These nurses said, "We don’t think you could hit a baseball." I told them, "I could do alright." They said, "OK, let’s find out." We had a Wiffle ball. This guy pulled out one of those unbreakable [fluorescent] lights and said, "Here, we’ll use this for a bat." The guys had ropes around my hips to hold me up, because I couldn’t stand up. I was hitting. We were laughing and giggling and things like that. They got you to do some rehab by telling you that you couldn’t hit a baseball. Brilliant.
Manuel: [Laughs.] They said, "We’re going to have some fun. We’re going to see if you can actually hit the ball." They made a big deal out of it. What did you miss the most about the game?
Manuel: I missed the atmosphere at the ballpark. I missed talking to the guys. During the season, I don’t really coach guys. We’ve got people who do that. But every game I’d go into the cage, and I’d sit on the couch and talk to all the guys. They started to call me "Couch Time." Then I’d go to the [press] box up there and watched the game. I don’t think people realize it, but when I’m home, I watch games. I watch all the time. I keep up with every hitter on every team. I watch them hit. I try to look for their weaknesses, how to pitch them and things like that.

They gave me a laptop two or three years ago. I’ll watch [Double-A] Reading and [Triple-A] Lehigh Valley when I can. I’ll watch three or four games at my house. I probably went to 10 high school games in Philly last spring. I’ll go anywhere to watch baseball. I remember when the Phillies hired you as manager, you said in your press conference, "I’m a 24-hour baseball guy. I live and sleep baseball." That hasn’t changed, has it?
Manuel: I got these signs and pictures at my house. My 9-year-old granddaughter in Washington, D.C., she got me a sign that said, "All Day Baseball." She told me to hang it in my room at home. What does it mean to know so many people were pulling for you in Philly?
Manuel: It’s amazing. I’m very grateful for it. You know, you think people care about you. They keep up with you. I’m thinking I don’t understand why sometimes. Really. But it definitely makes you feel good. I think that helps me. It drives me. It makes me want to get better. How many people do you think you heard from?
Manuel: Oh, man. A lot. If I showed you my phone, you’d be amazed. First of all, I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t answer them. [Laughs.] I felt embarrassed. Really, I feel better now. I want to talk better. I want to be exactly where I used to be. But I have more confidence now that I’ve kind of come out and talked to people. What do you think you can do this year without overexerting yourself?
Manuel: I’m weak right now, but I’ll definitely get stronger. I’ll get more energy. My speech will completely come back, but they say most of the time it takes six months to a year. I’m hoping I get it back. In the meantime, I’ll keep taking lessons and I think it’ll help me. I want to be able to talk to people and watch our team play and watch other teams play and enjoy baseball. To me, Phillies baseball is where it’s at. This year, I think we’ve got a good chance. I thought we had a great team last year. I pull for us all the time. But nowadays, all my free time is baseball. So you think you’ll be in Philly this year?
Manuel: Yeah, hopefully I’ll see some games there like I did before. I’d like to go through our Minor Leagues. I missed the players in the Draft last year. I don’t know any of them. I want to get to know them. I plan on spending some time in Clearwater and see our younger players play. But I want everything to be positive about our team. I don’t want to interrupt. I think the focus should be on the team and not on somebody like myself. Were you nervous coming here?
Manuel: I was wondering what the atmosphere would be. I didn’t want people to think that I just came here to fart around. I took it seriously to come here. I definitely don’t want to be in the way, because I look at our team and I have a lot of respect for our team. We’ve definitely got a chance to win. We have a team that’s good enough to go all the way and win a World Series.