"I haven't changed at all no matter what happened last year or any other year," Manuel said. "I'm exactly the same manager I always was. We talk about that all the time here, be the same every day."
A consistent and straightforward philosophy underlies Manuel's managerial approach: He and his players are required to report to the ballpark every day, focus only on the moment - not on games played yesterday or tomorrow, or other distractions - and put forth an earnest effort on the field. That's it. To change anything based on last season's challenges would violate those tenets of how these Phillies operate.
That M.O. has helped Manuel forge a legacy, after several difficult years with the Phils. Hired in 2005, Manuel found his folksy accent the object of ridicule by some talk-radio hosts, newspaper columnists, and fans, and always heard his name attached to rumors about job security. The period reached its low point in April of the 2007 season. The Phils won just once in their first seven games, increasing calls for Manuel's dismissal.
Later that month, Manuel and radio host Howard Eskin engaged in a high-profile conflict in the Phils' clubhouse, and the manager's time in Philadelphia did not appear headed for triumph. But by the end of that season, the Phillies capitalized on the New York Mets' collapse to win the National League East and make a playoff appearance. One year later, Manuel joined Dallas Green as the only managers to win a championship with the Phils.
Though that victory altered forever the narrative of Manuel's time in Philadelphia, no sports figure can elevate him or herself beyond reproach in this city. In 2009, Manuel frustrated some fans by his loyalty, which some interpret as stubbornness.
"Charlie is the most loyal manager I have ever played for," said Brad Lidge.
Though Manuel has gone from mocked to mostly beloved during his tenure - there is no better way to endear oneself to the public than steering the home team toward its first World Series title since 1980 - many fans have expressed frustration with the manager's steadfast refusal to demote Lidge from the closer's role or Jimmy Rollins from the leadoff position. To the likely dismay of those who would prefer to see Lidge and Cole Hamels banished and Rollins batting seventh, the leash on most Phillies will be no shorter this year.
If Manuel was tempted last season to be less loyal, he never expressed those feelings in public. Rollins was batting .211 on June 24 and was perhaps the weakest leadoff hitter in baseball, when Manuel forced the shortstop into a four-day benching. But that midseason break was not presented as punishment; rather, Manuel told Rollins that he wanted to be supportive and that the best way to do that was to offer a mandatory mental respite.
"That did help me get back to where I needed to be," Rollins said.
Manuel never threatened to permanently remove Rollins as the leadoff hitter, despite a low on-base percentage. Instead, Manuel focused on strategies that would help Rollins rediscover his best self. "Jimmy was my leadoff hitter, and Jimmy will be my leadoff hitter," Manuel said. "You're not going to help him do a better job for us by threatening to take that away from him."
Many in the public also objected when Manuel continued to call on Lidge in the ninth inning, even though Lidge blew more saves than any other closer last season and rarely showed signs of lasting improvement. The manager had seen Lidge's perfect 2008 and believed that the veteran still offered the most talent and potential in the bullpen. He also recognized that Lidge is a sensitive person and did not respond well earlier in his career after the Houston Astros frequently moved him in and out of the ninth-inning job.
If Rollins, Lidge, or any other proven player struggles this season, Manuel expects to employ the same strategies of patience, loyalty, and faith. "It isn't hard to be patient when you're talking about Brad Lidge and Jimmy Rollins," Manuel said. "You know that those players are going to produce at some point. If I had to do that over, I'd do it the same way. You have to believe in your players."
Lidge's issues, and setup man Ryan Madson's inability to successfully fill in when called upon, forced Manuel to manage creatively in the playoffs. As late as Sept. 27, he entertained several frightening possibilities for October. Journeyman Tyler Walker was in the mix to be named postseason closer, as were starters J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez. Myers and Chan Ho Park, both unavailable because of injuries, were also possibilities, if they were able to return at all.
With so many deep issues in the bullpen, the Phils appeared poised for a quick exit, perhaps as soon as the division series in Colorado. Manuel, working closely with pitching coach Rich Dubee, devised an unexpected plan to avoid that, and to avoid abandoning Lidge as the closer.
Conceding the bullpen weaknesses, Manuel and Dubee decided to begin each playoff series with Happ and starter Joe Blanton in the bullpen. Whoever was still fresh late in a series would be available to start. The veteran Martinez also remained in the mix, more likely as a starter, but also able to pitch in relief if needed.
The strategy was mostly successful. Martinez enjoyed several strong starts, including one well-planned outing in the comfortable heat of Los Angeles during the National League Championship Series. Blanton contributed from the bullpen and rotation.
Happ was the lone casualty of the plan. One of the Phils' best starters all season and a rookie of the year runner-up, Happ started just once in the postseason and was a nonfactor in the bullpen. Because fellow lefty J.C. Romero was injured, the Phils needed Happ available in relief but Happ ended up caught between the two roles. Otherwise, though, Manuel's and Dubee's improvisation enabled the fragile team to play into November.
Though he is proud of that creative managing, Manuel would prefer not to do it again. "I leaned on Dubes a lot, and we took some chances," he said, shaking his head and chuckling at the memory. "I guess it was kind of enjoyable a little, but at the same time I'm a manager who likes to have everyone in their roles. It's better when everyone is performing, and you don't have to think about it as much. That's what I'd like this year to be like."