Gonzo: Charlie Manuel espouses the philosophy of Ric Flair

Charlie Manuel was once derided by Phillies fans, but his success has helped to win them over.
Charlie Manuel was once derided by Phillies fans, but his success has helped to win them over.
Posted: October 15, 2010

If he hadn't dedicated his life to baseball, Charlie Manuel would have made an excellent pro wrestler. Vince McMahon, the WWE patriarch, likes to refer to his employees as sports entertainers. That description fits Manuel perfectly.

The man has both charisma and guts. One minute he's making you laugh with homespun witticisms, the next he's challenging ornery radio hosts to "stop by" his office to scrap. Give him a steel chair and a different type of uniform and he'd make Hulk Hogan tap out for sure.

Manuel talked about the Phillies on Thursday and said all the right, complimentary things about his guys. He said he likes his players, likes how they enjoy competing against the best, likes everything about them, actually.

"One of the reasons is because we think we can play, and we think we can play in the big, tough games," Manuel said. "Actually, last year, I hate to look back, when we got beat in the World Series, I said I want to go back and play the Yankees."

As he continued, Manuel revealed that he's a bit of a wrasslin' fan. Then the manager climbed up to the top storytelling turnbuckle and dropped an elbow on our funny bone.

"I heard [Pat] Burrell in an interview [Thursday] morning, when I woke up and turned the TV on. He said, 'To be the best you've got to beat the best.' That's one of my slogans. That's Ric Flair," Manuel said, referring to the legendary wrestler while the crowd chuckled. "Going to Space Mountain - what the hell. You know, like what happens at Space Mountain, you've got to get there and conquer it. You've got to stay there. That's what we want to do."

It was hilarious and unexpected, crazy and clever. It was Charlie Manuel. Where some other coaches in town often chose arrogance over aplomb (grumble, cough, listen), Manuel has managed to win and win us over.

The Phils have claimed four straight National League East titles. They've captured a World Series and reached another in consecutive seasons. And Saturday, after a lengthy layoff that's beginning to toy with the city's sanity, they will appear in their third-straight National League Championship Series. It's hard to imagine any of that happening without Manuel. He has helped lay the foundation for a dynasty.

And though he's done a remarkable job this season as well - after winning a baseball-best 97 games with a club that suffered so many injuries, he deserves to be manager of the year - the most-amazing feat of his career concerns how he charmed our city. It wasn't long ago (even though it seems that way at times) when he was derided by a large portion of the natives as some clueless country clod. But despite our less-than-warm welcome, he never complained about how he was initially treated. Instead, he just kept rolling out the "what the hells," confident that we'd eventually see him for who he is - a smart baseball man with a genuine personality and the sort of deadpan comedic delivery no one can refuse.

We had it wrong in the beginning. He really is perfect for this team and this town and this time in our sports history. Like the Phils before 2008 - and this city for, oh, pretty much forever - Manuel is a guy who was underrated, who probably didn't get the respect or recognition he deserved.

That's changed, of course. Now he's almost universally accepted (the holdouts should ask their doctors for stronger mood-altering meds). Now we listen to him talk about Ric Flair and we laugh. Now, and with good reason, people are glad he's here.

If there's another parade this year, he should do the Nature Boy strut down Broad Street. It's close enough to the Mummers' strut, and he's earned the right to peacock a little.

Anyone ever get tired of seeing the video of Pete Rose plowing over Bruce Bochy? Me neither. . . . Better '90s hair tribute: the mop on Tim Lincecum's head or the mini-caterpillar camping out on Joe Blanton's chin? . . . So what if it happened during my failed run for U.S. Congress? Looks like I'm not the only one who has confused Chile's flag with the Texas state flag: http://yhoo.it/btXlDi. Incidentally, I bet I'm still loved by transplanted Chileans living in Dallas. . . . Just one more day until the NLCS gets under way. Here's some fun Phillies pop art done by a local painter to keep you occupied while you wait: http://bit.ly/a5TL0Y. . . . Latest Bodog.com odds to win the World Series: Phillies 5-4, Yankees 9-5, Rangers 9-2, Giants 11-2. . . . Just so there's no confusion, Barry Bonds told TMZ he's rooting for the Giants: "If you think I'm going for Philadelphia - forget it," he said. "I'm a Giants fan for life. I love you. Much love to San Francisco." Another crisis narrowly averted.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly.

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