"I don't know if Charlie could win a debate about world economics or the health-care plan. But you sit down and talk baseball with Charlie, you'll get a Ph.D. in baseball," O'Dowd said over the weekend, leaning on the railing of the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium.
"I was really young. I was so far out over my skis, and he knew that. I had outkicked my coverage. But he also knew that I was a willing listener and I didn't act like a know-it-all and I wanted to learn and grow. Charlie loves to talk about baseball. I owe a lot of my knowledge, especially in the area of hitting, to him. He spent hours talking to me about swings and things to evaluate, what young hitters bring and how they mature into older hitters. I learned a lot from him."
Said Manuel: "He was ambitious as hell and all that. He could get uptight about stuff. He was young and eager. But he was really easy to work with. He was a listener. He hadn't had a lot of experience as far as playing on the field. But when we were going in to talk about our team in a meeting, I had to make sure I got it right. Because I knew he was going to be prepared and I always wanted to beat him. I had some of my greatest years working with him."
Baseball is an ever-changing mosaic. Faces disappear in one place, pop up in another. Twenty years later, with the National League Division Series set to begin tomorrow at Citizens Bank Park, the old friends find themselves wishing each other the worst. At least for the next week or so.
O'Dowd is general manager of the Colorado Rockies. Manuel is the Phillies' manager. One will win. One will have to lose. It has to be strange to root against someone you like and admire.
Two stories from their time together in the Cleveland system illustrate the relationship.
The first occurred while Manuel was managing at Triple A Colorado Springs. It was late in the season, the Sky Sox were trying to win the Pacific Coast League pennant and a catcher got hurt. It was O'Dowd's responsibility to find a replacement.
"Finding catchers late in the year, for a farm director, is almost impossible," O'Dowd recalled. "I don't know where I found this guy. His name was McGuire. They were in Albuquerque and I was watching the box score and this guy must have made three errors."
Back in Cleveland, O'Dowd's phone rang in the middle of the night. When he groggily answered, Manuel was on the line.
"He said McGuire had gotten hurt," he continued. "And he kept wanting Einar Diaz, one of the young kids in our minor league system, to get to Triple A. So at that point in time I had no choice but to send him Einar Diaz. So I did. A couple days went by and I was reading the injury report on Colorado Springs and McGuire wasn't on it.
"I called the trainer and I said, 'Hey, is McGuire getting healthy?' And he says, 'I don't know what the hell you're talking about. McGuire's not hurt.' "
O'Dowd stopped and laughed out loud. "The next time I talked to him, I cursed him up one side and down the other."
Even after all this time, Manuel is unapologetic for the ruse. "I figured I needed another catcher, a little better player," he said with a chuckle. "It was very easy to say the other guy was hurt because if I ever wanted to rest him, he took it kind of lightly."
O'Dowd got a measure of revenge, though. One night after a game, the farm director and manager went out for a beer. Manuel started talking about his time in Japan. He mentioned that he had brought some paintings back and added that he thought they might be worth quite a bit of money.
"I filed that one away," O'Dowd said. "Then in the middle of the winter, I called him up and I told him I was so-and-so from the Internal Revenue Service. I told him that we had found in the records from Japanese exporting that he had imported art work into the United States and we couldn't find any record that he had paid taxes on it."
O'Dowd happily recalled that he put a towel over the phone and disguised his voice to make sure Manuel didn't recognize him.
"Charlie started stuttering," he said. "And I said, 'Look, Mr. Manuel, we need to set up an appointment. Do you have a tax attorney?' And he said, 'G-g-gosh darn. T-t-tax attorney? H-h-how much money are we talking about?' I said, 'Mr. Manuel, I don't think we should get into that over the phone.'
"I waited like 2 weeks and I called him back and I said, 'Hey, Charlie, you got that appointment set up with the IRS?' Boom! He wouldn't talk to me for a month, 2 months after that."
Conceded Manuel: "He really had me going."
O'Dowd's theory on why they gravitated toward each other: "I think it's the same reason players like Charlie. He's very authentic as a human being. He has tremendous passion for the game. And he just makes you feel good about yourself. Even when you're arguing, you feel good about the argument.
"I'm really happy for him. And it doesn't surprise me, because even back then Charlie told me he was going to be a big-league manager, told me he was going to be a good big-league manager, told me he was going to win a World Series or two. He never wavered in his confidence. He knew what he couldn't do, but he knew what he could do and he always played to his strengths.
"And his strengths are, he makes players comfortable but at the same time they play hard for him. They're disciplined. I've been really impressed, what he did last year with the star player [shortstop Jimmy Rollins] not running out a ball. I told him when I saw him at the winter meetings I thought that changed his whole season around.
"Certain people are just born to do certain things in life. And Charlie is exactly where God wants him. He's doing exactly what his skill set is to do in life. I'm just really glad he's had success, because he deserves it."
For his part, Manuel recognized in the younger man a shared love of the game.
"I saw a very passionate person as far as baseball was concerned," he said. "He was always honest and I thought he valued my opinion. I always enjoyed talking to him a lot."
Both have gone on to have successful careers. O'Dowd is the fourth longest-tenured general manager in the majors and the Rockies beat the Phillies on their way to advancing to the World Series in 2007. Manuel won the world championship last year and is gunning for another.
The first step toward that goal is to beat O'Dowd's team. That's baseball. Both understand that's just the way it goes sometimes.