Most with the least? Manuel had his regular lineup for what, 14 games in the regular season, and still won 97 times. That was Wilson Valdez with 333 at-bats, and even Houdini couldn't find a place to hide Valdez in the lineup.
Even if his team had stayed healthier, you think it's a picnic in the park to manage guys making $15 million a year, in the early stages of long-term contracts? Tommy Lasorda once compared managing to holding a dove in your hands. Squeeze too tight and you strangle it. Hold it too loose and it flies away.
Manuel exerts just the right amount of pressure. Calls a meeting when he's really unhappy. Screeches from blunt to blasphemous early on and nobody, nobody, has trouble understanding the man.
Puts guys in spots that give them the best chance to succeed, which is what managing is really all about. Talks about "heart" and "want-to" all the time, and that sets him apart from most managers.
He's folksy, he's warm, he's loyal, and he has been around long enough to understand the value of a "moment." Which is why he left Roy Halladay out there in the ninth inning against Washington so Halladay could share the moment of clinching the division with his teammates.
Reaped a quick reward when Halladay pitched a no-hitter his first postseason game ever. And that's a prime example of why I think Manuel is the best manager this team has had in the last 50 years.
Who's better? Gene Mauch, who dragged the Phillies out of the rubble of mediocrity in the early 1960s? Dallas Green, who screamed this franchise to its first World Series championship in 1980? Paul Owens, who dragged the Wheeze Kids into the 1983 World Series, where they unraveled against Baltimore? Jim Fregosi, who rode shotgun on a rowdy bunch all the way to Game 6 of the 1993 World Series?
Danny Ozark and his malaprops and the unforgivable sin of forgetting to sub Jerry Martin for Greg Luzinski? John Felske? Who? Frank Lucchesi? You're kidding, right? Terry Francona? Larry Bowa? Manuel is head and stooped shoulders above all those guys, win, lose or drawl.
If he's got a flaw, it's that he hasn't figured out the rust vs. rest riddle. Baseball, motivated by greed, punishes successful teams by making them sit around during the playoffs. Play three meaningful games in 14 days and there's a chance hitters will lose their edge. Pitchers, too.
Ryan Howard gazing at strike three to end the season, that was painful. It was Howard's 30th strikeout in his last 56 postseason at-bats, and that screams for some constructive criticism from the manager.
Mauch, who used to float the promise that extraordinary people do extraordinary things, finishes second in my ratings.
Knew the game inside and out, but was a woeful people person. Memorized the rule book. Knew an opposing catcher ventured into the enemy dugout in pursuit of a foul ball at his own risk. Karate-chopped Jerry Grote across the wrists and the ball popped loose.
Spent a lot of time probing for weaknesses. Told the writers that Julian Javier couldn't spell curve, let alone hit one. Threw him nine curves that day, struck him out three times.
Was terrible with pitchers, not just those last 12 games in '64. Would yank reliever Jack Baldschun if he went 2-0 on a hitter. Manuel wouldn't yank a pitcher in midcount if you set his shoelaces on fire.
One stark contrast in how they handled struggling players. Mauch would scowl and say, "Look at the back of their baseball cards." Manuel says, "He's done it for me before and I have trust in him."
Oh, and Mauch had his teams on the World Series doorstep three times and stumbled all three times.
Green is already on the Phillies' Wall of Fame, out there where the buffalo mozzarella roams. Green's way of creating team unity was to get everybody mad at him! That might work, but not for the long haul.
Fregosi wanted his players to think they could police themselves. He didn't care what the public thought, which explains his obscene rant about fans who listen to WIP. Fact is, that scruffy, raucous band of warriors led the league in bases on balls, so underneath that flabby, rumpled exterior lurked a disciplined bunch of ballplayers.
Bowa rounds out my top five. Knew the game, loved the game, but never found the knack of hiding his emotions in the dugout. Couldn't understand guys who seemed determined to look cool at all costs. If only he had taken the time to try to unlock the riddle that is Scott Rolen.
Manuel takes the time. Which is how he wrung a terrific season out of Jayson Werth, knowing he'd be gone when the season ended. It's how he rescued Brad Lidge from the swamp of lost confidence. It's how he got such gaudy work out of Carlos Ruiz and how he squeezed 333 at-bats out of Wilson Valdez.
He's simply the best manager the team has had in the last half-century. And in the half-century before that.
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