The man owns the city, and he owns it not because he performed any sort of transformation of himself, but because it is our perception that has changed. We're the ones who were slow to get it, to understand him, and to his everlasting credit he holds no grudges. And it has all come about for the most elemental of reasons:
Going into the playoffs, 646 of them and counting. The most of any Phillies manager.
So now he is our favorite uncle, Jolly Cholly, and he manages to navigate in and out of three generations with a deceptive ease. Most important of all, he has the ear and the respect of his players. He has earned that by being fiercely loyal to them, staying with them through strangling slumps even as the rest of us are clamoring to have them benched. Or sent down. Or shot. Or something. Anything.
But no, through thick and thicker, he stands by them. And whatever it is, it works.
He is presiding over the most successful era in the 129 years of Phillies existence: Five playoff appearances in a row and counting. Two trips to the World Series. One title won and another on the way - OK, so this one may not be the walkover that seemed so assured back in the spring, considering how they limped to the finish line.
But they are there, armed with those electric arms just like they were supposed to be, and they got there in spite of an epidemic-size injuries outbreak that forced the manager to mix and match, piece and patch, and juggle lineups from night to night for almost an entire season. He held them together, refused to let anyone succumb to panic, and so in many respects this was probably the manager's best job yet.
There is unresolved debate about the exact role of a baseball manager, about how many victories he can be credited with, how many defeats can be laid at his feet. There is, Manuel agreed, a lot of luck involved: "Yes, it's bad luck not to have good players."
He is a baseball lifer, having invested more than a half-century into it, and so he understands that the very nature of baseball invites relentless second-guessing. More judgment is passed in one game than in any of the other sports - more than 200 at-bats, plus a cornucopia of strategic decisions like hit-and-run, steal, sacrifice, two-player switch, and on and on, because baseball is the game all of us can relate to and know better than the stumbling bumbler we've got running our ship now . . . grumble . . . grumble . . . grumble.
What is evident is, this manager can adapt and adjust. He came over from the American League, land of the three-run homer and that abomination known as the Designated Hitter. And yes, in those early seasons here he presided over a power-and-punch machine. But there followed a gradual shift toward pitching and defense, and lo, the Fightin's can beat you 1-0 just as easily as 9-7.
Charlie Manuel replaced the beloved Larry Bowa, a grandfather replacing a pepper pot, who in turn had replaced Terry Francona, who was said to be a player's manager, meaning the cat just got a new mouse to play with - these things run in predetermined cycles, and so it is all but inevitable that one day our Jolly Cholly will fall out of favor.
In the meantime, the turnstiles at the Bank click merrily away, the younger generation doesn't know what it's like to have a losing team, and the core of Charlie Manuel's team is nearing its expiration date, so win faster, win them all - hurry, hurry, hurry. . . .
He says he has a bad temper, but the paint on his office walls has not been peeled off by his rhetoric. Mostly, he strikes you as an appreciative, unassuming man who, having survived a lengthy list of health issues, considers himself to be one lucky SOB.
He has no ego that needs to be fed. Indeed, when his teams have won all those assorted trophies, while they are taking champagne showers the manager remains at his desk, explaining: "It's their moment."
He did make an exception with the World Series championship trophy. He took it outside, where the we'll-stay-until-dawn loyalists and those longtime diehards who know what suffering feels like were celebrating, and he held it aloft and told them: "This is yours. You won it."
Turns out, he knew us all along.
E-mail Bill Lyon at email@example.com.