Manuel came a long way to earn Phillies fans' affection

"I've heard people call me 'Uncle' or say that I'm soft - I'm definitely not that," says Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. He is one of only three National League skippers to take a team to the postseason four years in a row.
"I've heard people call me 'Uncle' or say that I'm soft - I'm definitely not that," says Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. He is one of only three National League skippers to take a team to the postseason four years in a row.
Posted: October 05, 2010

The Phillies had just clinched the National League East title and manager Charlie Manuel's players were spraying champagne and beer around the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park in Washington.

Alone in his office, Manuel entertained questions about his growing legacy. He had just joined Atlanta's Bobby Cox and the New York Giants' John McGraw as the only National League managers to take their teams to the postseason four years in a row.

"I'd like to run off 14 in a row like Bobby Cox," Manuel said. "I got 10 more to go. Hell, I'd only be 76 years old. That would be pretty good, wouldn't it? But right now, I'd like to win another World Series."

To fully understand how surreal that moment was you have to flash back four years to October 2006, when Manuel was still perceived as a bumbling bumpkin and the fan base wanted him fired. The letters to The Inquirer were not flattering, especially since Jim Leyland, the man the Phillies could have hired after Larry Bowa was fired in 2004, was in the midst of taking the Detroit Tigers to the World Series.

Here's a sampling from one letter: "Three years ago, the Phillies had a chance to get a great manager, but they went the cheap way and hired Charlie Manuel. Now the manager they would not pay the big dollars to is in the American League Championship Series, and the Phillies are watching at home. I believe a great manager is worth 10 victories a year and a bad manager is good for 10 losses a year, and that puts the Phillies out of the playoffs the last two years."

That was the prevailing opinion at the time.

It was not Pat Gillick's opinion.

"I didn't see any reason to make a change," the former Phillies general manager said. "I never thought about making a change. When I was around the players, I was convinced that he had their respect. When the players lose respect for the manager, you have a problem on your hands. It's difficult to turn that around."

In Gillick's estimation, Manuel needed better players and that's something the former general manager and current GM Ruben Amaro Jr. have given the manager during the franchise's unprecedented run of success.

Even though the Phillies won their fourth straight division title by pulling away from the second-place Atlanta Braves, this season had its share of challenges.

There were the injuries - six of his eight position players, two of his starting pitchers, and four of his relievers spent time on the disabled list - including the prolonged absences of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley.

There were the offensive lapses - 75 times the Phillies scored three runs or fewer. And there was another stretch when everyone wondered if Brad Lidge was the right man to be the closer.

Manuel stood by his men, although he admittedly did not always practice the patience he has become known for. He said he had more meetings this season than ever before, although he was not exactly sure why or sometimes what he was saying.

"A lot of times I don't even know what I'm saying, especially when I get upset," Manuel said. "I curse a lot. I'm not afraid to call you out. I'll tell you where it's at. I've heard people call me 'Uncle' or say that I'm soft - I'm definitely not that."

Asked why he thought he had more meetings this season, Manuel said he was not happy with the way the team played at different points of the season.

"There were times that I did not like how we reacted to things and our energy level," he said.

Reliever Chad Durbin said there still were not that many meetings and the message was not that much different than it was in previous seasons.

"It seems like the last three years we've had meetings about the same time of year and put it together down the stretch all three years," Durbin said. "Maybe the meetings were more memorable this year, but the same sentiments were put forth. He'd tell us we need to get out there and play the game like we love it and play it the right way. His message is just, 'Do it the right way.' "

One of Manuel's common themes this season was that the Phillies had to guard against complacency and the other potential pitfalls that come with success.

"It's harder to stay on top because everybody wants to drift off in their own direction," Manuel said. "The game has to be the No. 1 priority, but it's natural for people to want to start branching off and start worrying about what they can get out of it. Eventually, that will get you in trouble."

Even with all the potential obstacles, the 2010 Phillies finished with 97 victories and had the best regular-season record in baseball for the first time in franchise history.

"Definitely, it was his best job," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "He kept this team together when we were up and down, up and down. In one of his last meetings, he reminded us that we had a good team and we could still play good baseball. He wanted to push us."

Manuel's pushing eventually led to a fourth straight division title and that champagne celebration in the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park. Now, the Phillies have another chance for a World Series title with the manager so many people wanted out of here four years ago.


Top five moves by Phillies manager Manuel

Good Calls

Five successful moves Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has made this season.

Making Valdez the primary Phil-in

The Phillies released infielder Juan Castro in mid-July, turning over the job of top reserve infielder to Wilson Valdez. Filling in for second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Placido Polanco at various times, Valdez started a career-high 89 games and made just three errors. The Phillies went 52-37 in his starts.

Firing the hitting instructor

After the team charter flight landed in Philadelphia following a 2-6 road trip to Chicago and St. Louis, Manuel informed hitting instructor Milt Thompson he was being fired. He was replaced by Greg Gross. The Phillies went 48-19 the remainder of the season and overcame a seven-game deficit to win the division.

Sticking with Lidge

After Brad Lidge, left, coughed up a ninth-inning lead by serving up a no-doubt-about-it, game-winning home run to Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, Manuel uttered those three famous words that tested the fans' patience and displayed his own: "He's our closer." At the time, Lidge had a 5.57 ERA and six blown saves in 14 opportunities. Over his final 26 games, Lidge converted 18 of 19 saves and had a 0.73 ERA.

Sticking with Raul

Raul Ibanez batted .243 through the all-star break, but the manager never benched his leftfielder and rarely platooned him with the righthanded hitting Ben Francisco. Ibanez rewarded Manuel's allegiance by batting .309 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 70 games after the break.

Shuffling the rotation

Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee shuffled the starting rotation in mid-September, which set up Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels to pitch in a pivotal three-game series against second-place Atlanta. The trio allowed a combined four runs in 22 innings as the Phillies swept the series to build a six-game lead that gave them a stranglehold on the division.

   - Bob Brookover


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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