Manuel deserves a lot of credit

Posted: September 30, 2007

His drawl is from the southwestern Virginia mountains, but he's more like you, more like this town, than you probably knew or suspected. As this town is a little, um, emotional about its sports teams, that doesn't make him perfect. But you should never believe that Charlie Manuel doesn't care. He's cared from minute one.

And, this morning, he will not tell his critics to stick it.

"I spend a lot of time by myself. I don't think a lot of people know that. And I do have bad days," Manuel said in his office yesterday, and this was just after Aaron Rowand had bear-hugged him, and asked him 'What do you think?' and poured a 17th beer on the NL East champion manager's noggin.

"I swear a lot, and I throw things, I bust things," Manuel said, "whether you believe that or not. I do. People don't see that. But life is good, and I think that my experience in the game, the places I've been and the things I've did, it definitely gives me an outlook and a positive attitude on life."

You can dismiss Manuel today, and say he was along for the wonderful, amazing ride this season, that any goat could have won a division with Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and the like on his lineup card every day. And you would be so, so wrong.

Pro sports do not reward slackers, or front-runners, or poseurs, and they chew up those who don't pay their dues - in the batting cage, on the chipping range, running "17" drills on the basketball court or "nutcracker" drills on the football field. And baseball is especially cruel.

That's why, along with cheering Rollins and Utley, Howard and Brett Myers, there should be cheers today for Charlie Manuel, a lifer, whose last job outside the game was four decades ago, while he played in the minors, pushing 90- and 120-pound columns of carpet up and down James Lees' carpet factory in Glasgow, Va., to stay in shape during the winter.

This is a guy who's managed with a colostomy bag under his jersey, and come back from a heart attack and bypass surgery, and cancer, to baseball, always baseball, who's applied the lessons of a life lived both here and abroad, who learned how to motivate from tough guys like Billy Martin and a fellow named Hirooka - who managed the Yakult Swallows in Japan - while also learning patience from the likes of Walter Alston and Yukio Nishimoto of the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

He may make mistakes and mangle words. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know what he's doing. And while he will surely be fired from here someday, today, he should get his share of the credit.

"The things I've been through, I remember them, but at the same time, when it comes to baseball, I'm a baseball rat," Manuel said. "I'm a 24-hour guy. You can say anything you want to, but that's what I am. And I've been in this game all my life, it seems like. This is a big moment, not only for me, but the whole team."

The Phillies' improbable run was fueled by its veteran core, which led by word and example all season. But they also won because Manuel got it right a lot more than he got it wrong, and if he pulled Cole Hamels a little early once, he also massaged every drop out of his bullpen. His was the calming voice, the encouraging one, even at 4-11 - especially at 4-11.

While the message boards and chat rooms were on fire, begging Pat Gillick to pull the plug, Manuel went about his business, talked to each guy in the locker room every day, didn't throw any tantrums - well, there was that one time - and played it cool.

"He kept this club together when we could have been sliding all over the place," first-base coach Davey Lopes said. "He doesn't show panic. He has a tremendous amount of faith in his players. They respond to how he carries himself in the clubhouse. They love playing for him."

This is a town that welcomes bombast, rewards big talkers and self-promoters, all under the guise of toughness. But you can be tough with a smile, and give a damn without cursing people out. Too often, we mistake kindness for weakness, and we mistake the occasional fractured syllable for stupidity.

Manuel is neither weak nor stupid.

He hasn't made much of it, and didn't yesterday, but there is that matter of his not having a contract after this season, and maybe he doesn't fill out a uniform like Willie Randolph or carry a briefcase around like Tony La Russa. But he probably should be invited to stick around for a spell, don't you think?


Contact David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.

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