Charlie Manuel enters 2012 in his 8th season managing the Phillies. It seems like just yesterday fans were arguing the merits of hiring Jim Leyland versus Manuel. Leyland had won a World Series with the Marlins, while Charlie had just a couple successful years managing the Tribe. The Phillies brass went with Manuel, and the rest is history. Eight years later the debate has slipped into the realm of irrelevancy, as Manuel has won a world championship on his way to being the greatest manager in Phillies history.
It’s difficult to pull away from the proximity of the Phillies new season and appreciate just how good Manuel has been. In his first seven season seasons, Manuel has averaged 92 wins a year. All those wins have added up to 5 division titles, 2 NL pennants, and a World Championship. The only other manager to match Manuel in that last category is, of course, Dallas Green, who led the 1980 team.
Manuel is currently tied with former Phillies manager, Gene Mauch, for the franchise lead in wins. Charlie should take sole possession of that honor the first week of the season, leaving him with little left to accomplish that his predecessors haven’t.
The West-Virginia-born manager isn’t a native son of our fair city, but he has become an adopted one. He can add “most popular manager/coach of the city” to his titles as well. The Flyers’ coaching carousel never seems to end, and the Sixers’ Doug Collins will need to win some playoff games before he is truly accepted by the fans. I won’t get into my feelings on Andy Reid (there just isn’t enough time), but we can all agree that he is out of favor with Philadelphians.
Manuel never received the fans’ harsh fervor that Reid has, but he wasn’t accepted right away either. His slow drawl and manner of speech quickly gave him the stigma of the country bumpkin. Charlie Manuel of course is no yokel, as we have all come to learn. His sound bytes might not be earth-shattering, but the man knows hitting and will talk to anyone who will listen on the subject.
The team’s hitting has been the main topic of discussion this Spring, as the bats went silent yet again in an early October exit. Manuel not only wants to talk hitting, he wants everyone else to as well. In a recent interview, Charlie described his hopes for the Phillies line-up:
I want to talk to all of our guys. I want our guys to talk about hitting. I want guys like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Howard and Victorino, I want to have more talk about hitting, talking about getting good balls to hit, not giving away at-bats, things like that. With our pitching and everything like that, we need to score the runs that we’re supposed to score. If we have a guy on third base with less than two outs early in the game, we need to score one run. If we have two guys on, we need to make sure we score one run, instead of a guy standing there maybe trying to bust the game open.
Charlie knows that the team needs to be smarter at the plate and have better at bats with Howard out to start the year. Even when Ryan returns to the lineup, the team needs to focus on grinding down pitchers and doing the little things that make the difference in close ball games.
Can Charlie teach these old dogs new tricks? The answer to that question will be played out all season long, but one thing is certain: Manuel has earned the trust of the fans, and more importantly, the guys in the clubhouse.
So when you are screaming at Charlie through the TV to keep Halladay in the 9th, just take a deep breath and remember you are watching the greatest manager in Phillies history.