Bill Conlin | There's been no better crisis manager in '07

Posted: June 28, 2007

HERE IS TODAY'S baseball exercise: Take a deep breath and empty your mind of all negative thoughts. Purge every preconceived opinion of Charlie Manuel's work from your head.

Look in the mirror. Now,  repeat after me:

"As the Phillies cross the midseason mark and head toward the All-Star break, has anybody in the National League done a better job of crisis management than Charlie Manuel?"

If you can pin a "Yes" answer to that question, please supply names and specifics.

Remember, the criteria here is who had overcome the most adversity while keeping a team that has reeled from one catastrophe to another in contact with the pennant race. It is not about double moves, bullpen use, lineup decisions or any of the game-to-game flow of the long season. It is about keeping the confidence of the players you have and hanging in there with them.

Crisis management is precisely what the term implies - dealing with significant loss of key players to injury or with projected regulars stinking out the joint.

Pretend you were granted clairvoyance on Opening Day and you learned that at the end of June, the Phillies would look like this:

* Opening Day starter Brett Myers slowly recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in the role of closer . . . Former closer Tom Gordon on the shelf again . . . Lefty setup man Matt Smith injured and out of the picture . . . Fabio Castro back in the minors where he belonged . . . Ineffective pickup Francisco Rosario on the DL . . . Jose Mesa being plucked off the waiver scrap heap . . . Chubby lefty Mike Zagursky, an unknown in spring training, opening the season in Class A and winding up as a situational lefthander with the varsity.

* Jon "The New 5-for-1" Lieber suffering a possible season-ending foot tendon tear performing the dangerous activity of waddling off the mound to back up the plate . . . $10 million top-of-the-rotation starter Freddy

Garcia's plucky attempt to fool Mother Nature and GM Pat Gillick collapsing like his SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior-Posterior) lesion-afflicted right shoulder with one victory to show for the charade . . . Double A righthander Kyle Kendrick showing more heart and tenacity than pure stuff during three straight starts, all Phillies wins . . . Somebody named J.D. Durbin would start a huge game Friday night against the Mets . . . Lefty J.A. Happ, himself coming back from arm miseries, is about to be shuttled up from Triple A for a Saturday start against the Mets. A huge four-game series against the reeling division leaders and two of the four starters will be named Durbin and Happ?

* Pat Burrell and Wes Helms, the Opening Day leftfielder and third baseman, polishing the pines with their expensive derrieres. Burrell is dragging his .205 toward the interstate. Between them, Burrell (eight) and Helms (one) have four fewer homers than leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins . . . Ryan Howard battling a nagging leg injury and stretches of looking like a lefthanded Dave Kingman. Strikeout Primer: Hat Trick, three Ks; Golden Sombrero, four Ks; Platinum Headdress, five Ks . . . Rod Barajas tossing .219, four HRs, nine RBI and some shaky catching onto the bonfire.

So, tell us mighty Carnac, where should this team be entering the final weekend of June considering all of the above? Ten games under .500 seems like a likely landing spot. Anything better? Gravy.

The Braves lost Chipper Jones for significant time and setup stud Mike Gonzalez is gone for the year. Bobby Cox' team careened past the Phillies like 25 skydivers wearing lead boots.

Remember, the Phillies played their absolute worst ball of the season back when they were still healthy, before the catalog of injuries and slumps started to look like something published back when Sears also had Roebuck attached.

Charlie Manuel is the lamest of lame ducks. He is a quack away from being in a Dick Cheney blind with clipped wings. Yet he is boldly thumbing his nose at the collection of low cards dealt to him by Gillick. He is incorporating the intimidating speed represented by Rollins, Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley more and more.

I think Charlie has been managing up a storm for more than a month. The worse the news, the better his survivors seem to play.

Look, the man not only murders the King's English; the king himself would fail to recognize the dialect. But Manuel is hardly a baseball pioneer in committing semanticide. Google "Casey Stengel and 1958 Senate Hearings." Read the transcript of The Old Professor's testimony to the Honorables on the subject of baseball's antitrust exemption. It makes Charlie sound like a Rhodes scholar. Hey, try parsing some of Sparky Anderson's fractured syntax. Or Yogi Berra's.

Charlie Manuel has crisis-managed this limping ballclub into the wind shadow of the New York Mets against all odds and any reasonable expectations.

Now, let's give the old boy a nod for a half-season job well done, because in the final 3 months it could all come apart like a FEMA trailer in a Cat 5 hurricane.

*

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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