Phillies' top manager: Zolecki's take

June 16th, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel punched his left hand into the air. He had something important to say to the euphoric crowd at Citizens Bank Park. He wanted them to hear it.

“Hey!” he said. “This is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!"

The crowd roared.

Manuel had plenty of memorable moments during his eight-plus seasons as the Phillies' manager from 2005-13. He said a lot of memorable things. But he said nothing more memorable than the words he spoke on national television after they won the 2008 World Series.

Phillies' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH SP | LH SP | Relievers

Over the past several weeks, MLB.com has been choosing its all-time Phillies team. It picked catcher , first baseman , second baseman , third baseman , shortstop , left fielder Sherry Magee, center fielder and right fielder as its starting eight position players. It chose and as its top right-handed and left-handed starters, respectively. Tug McGraw got the nod as the top reliever, while Del Unser was the best bench bat.

A team like that needs a manager, doesn’t it?

Manuel was the only choice. First, Manuel is one of only two managers in Phillies history to win a World Series. Dallas Green led the Phillies to their first World Series championship in 1980, but Manuel is the winningest manager in franchise history with 780 wins. He also led arguably the greatest era in franchise history, capturing five consecutive National League East titles from 2007-11, including back-to-back NL pennants ('08-09) and the '08 championship. He helped the Phillies win a franchise-record 102 games in '11.

Phillies fans today appreciate what Manuel delivered to the city. He still gets some of the loudest (maybe the loudest?) cheers every year when the Phillies host alumni weekend at Citizens Bank Park. It is ancient history, of course, but it wasn’t always that way. Manuel was consistently criticized his first couple seasons with the team. It started simply because former Phillies general manager Ed Wade chose him over Jim Leyland to replace Larry Bowa. Leyland was the fans’ choice, but Wade felt Manuel was the perfect fit for a team that needed a motivational push.

Wade was right, but the Phillies fell short of the postseason in both 2005 and '06. Pat Gillick replaced Wade as GM before '06, when the Phillies were eliminated from the postseason on the final weekend of the season. Gillick was noncommittal that weekend in Miami about bringing back Manuel. He ultimately did.

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Gillick earned induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. Asked about his best move as the Phillies' general manager, he said, “Sticking with Charlie.”

The game has changed since the Phillies made Manuel their manager. In some ways, it is unrecognizable. Almost every decision is based on data: roster construction, lineups, in-game decisions, the ways that hitters and pitchers are coached, etc. Teams continue to talk about the importance of chemistry and the human element of the game.

Those were Manuel’s greatest strengths. He knew people. He could relate to anybody, regardless of his background. He could motivate. He could pick up somebody with a joke or a pat on the back, but he also knew how to drop the hammer in one-on-one meetings or team meetings in the clubhouse. He made players believe in themselves.

Talk to Manuel’s players today, and they will tell you how much they loved playing for him. They say they would run through a wall for him.

Stuff like that matters over the course of a 162-game season. It can’t be quantified, like launch angle or exit velocity or spin rate, but it is real. It is what helped Manuel get the most out of his players, win a World Series and have some of the best teams in baseball over a five-year span.

It is what made Manuel the greatest manager in Phillies history.