Bob Ford | Manuel should be manager of the year

Posted: August 26, 2007

Somewhere amid the chatter and static of another sports week, woven in among the bluster of bloggers, the pontification of pundits and the wanderings of writers, was the notion that Manny Acta of Washington should be the National League manager of the year.

I can't remember who said it, or why, but the idea was out there, a contrarian view quickly followed by an of-course-he-won't-win-it-because disclaimer of the sort that gets the writer off the hook before he can be dragged flopping and breathless into the bottom of the boat.

Manny Acta.

Well, there are stranger ideas and here's another one for you:

Charlie Manuel is the NL manager of the year, and the vote shouldn't even be close.

This won't sit well with the howling hyenas of this town, who, right this moment, have gone to the kitchen drawer to find crayons so they can scrawl their e-mails on the screen of mom's computer.

Nevertheless, it is true. Charlie Manuel hasn't become more adept this season at public speaking. He hasn't trimmed the wild hairs of his in-game strategies. He hasn't overturned the postgame spread, hasn't challenged his team publicly, hasn't really done much to draw attention to himself.

All he has done is hold together a team that should be splintered and sinking. He has helped keep the Phillies in contention despite a season-long plague of injuries and slumps. The Phils didn't panic or give up or shrug at the unfairness of it all and take the easy way out. They have played every game hard, regardless of who was in the lineup and who wasn't. That may sound like a small compliment, but in professional sports it is not.

Manuel has done all this without a shred of personal support from the team's front office. He is operating on the final year of his contract, and general manager Pat Gillick has given no indication that he is even aware of his manager's role in the team's success. Of all the oversights committed by Gillick, this is the worst.

The man should get a new contract, and he should get it today. Call a news conference and do the right thing, Pat.

It is somewhat redundant to list what the Phillies have endured this season. Every day has been a new chapter, a new exercise in what-can-happen-next. They have used 12 starting pitchers and 25 pitchers overall.

Players have checked in and out of the disabled list as if it were just another road hotel on the schedule. Yoel Hernandez went on the DL last week almost before anyone knew he was back on the roster. He replaced Mike Zagurski, who also went on the DL before having time to unpack from the minors.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Tom Gordon, Brett Myers, Adam Eaton, Ryan Madson and on and on. The roster of those who haven't been on the disabled list this year is much shorter than the one of those who have. That's not a good year.

But here they are, hanging around, scoring a lot of runs, giving up a lot of runs, staying close enough to make you wonder if they can actually pull it off this time. The Phils are 2-34 when they score three runs or fewer. That's no way to play baseball (or no way to pitch, anyway). Conversely, they are 64-28 when they score at least four. That's a team that believes in itself. That's a team that takes its cue from the manager.

Let's look around the NL for a moment. Aside from Manuel, the other legitimate candidates for manger of the year are Bob Melvin of Arizona, Lou Piniella of Chicago and, if you insist, Acta.

The Diamondbacks were tied for last in the NL West in 2006 and this was supposed to be a year in which the team rebuilt with youth and maybe did a little more if Randy Johnson could hold together. Instead, Johnson has pitched barely 50 innings and the D'backs have risen to the top of their division on unexpectedly good work from the rest of the staff. Arizona is still among the worst in the league for hitting with runners in scoring position and has a limp .317 on-base percentage, but Melvin and the team have manufactured wins, and he is a very reasonable manager-of-the-year choice.

In Chicago, Piniella has seen a little bit of everything, including a dugout fight between his pitcher and catcher. The Cubs had the worst record in the NL last season (66-96), but are duking it out with Milwaukee for the Central Division title this time around - albeit barely over .500 while doing so. As with Arizona, the pitching has come through in Chicago. The Cubs have a team ERA among the best five in the league, which is no mean trick at Wrigley Field. Put Piniella on the list, too.

Acta gets mentioned because everyone assumed the Nationals would lose 120 games this season. The Nats were stripped down, placed in a deep rebuilding mode, and the offense has indeed been dreadful this season. The pitching, particularly the bullpen, has been better than expected, though, and after a 9-25 start, Washington has played better than .500 baseball. The Nationals will still lose somewhere around 95 games but haven't been a complete embarrassment.

That's your manager-of-the-year field, and I would point out that it's an awful lot easier to win baseball games when your pitching comes through - as it has for the other candidates - than when it disappears, as it has for Manuel.

Nothing has come easy for Charlie here, not in any of his three years as manager. Everything he has gotten, he has earned the hard way. This season, that should include a new contract and a trophy at the end with his name on it. Imagine that.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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