Sam Donnellon: If Phillies want to keep Manuel, they better start playing like it

Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick reacts to two-run homer by Blue Jays' Colby Rasmus in fifth inning. Getty Images
Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick reacts to two-run homer by Blue Jays' Colby Rasmus in fifth inning. Getty Images
Posted: June 19, 2012

FOR A TEAM that professes to love its manager, the Phillies have an odd way of showing it.

For a team whose core players have praised Charlie Manuel's positive and passive managerial style over the years, they sure seem to be begging their way toward being managed by a guy on the other end of that spectrum with their play this season.

Make no mistake: This is not a call for Manuel's managerial head. Just a recognition of what often happens when teams leave runners all over the place, overrun balls and throw them over each other's heads. Oh, and run themselves into outs with baserunning that you would be mad at your kid for doing, and would tempt you into making a long, animated speech about playing the game the right way.

Charlie made his latest one of those on Saturday, after the Phillies frittered away a 5-2 lead with Cliff Lee on the mound.

Manuel didn't bother closing the door before letting his voice be heard, and the Phillies were swept the next day.

Make no mistake about this either: This is not about Michael Martinez or Mike Fontenot or Hector Luna or any of the minor league bullpen pitchers and players they have tried to plug holes with. Sure, asking Joe Savery to pitch the 10th inning of a tie game is asking for trouble, just as asking Michael Schwimer to get you through the ninth is. But neither would have been necessary if key players — core players — were playing the way their salaries dictate they should be playing.

Jimmy Rollins threw away that game Saturday. Hunter Pence overran yet another ball Sunday, and left runners in scoring position yet again, too. One day after Manuel's loud, postgame message centered on focus, Shane Victorino was doubled off on a short fly ball that Jose Bautista caught without leaving his feet as the Blue Jays beat the Phillies, 6-2, to complete a weekend sweep.

A few weeks ago, Manuel was asked about his speeches during an interview with MLB's Jim Duquette on Sirius. Manuel said, "I've said things to them about it. More than once. And they've worked." In the past, Manuel's selective closed-door meetings, needed just a few times per season, were habitually followed with a prolonged period of precise play. That hasn't happened this season after any of his speeches, which have already broken a personal record, it would seem.

Similarly Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler has already shattered his personal regular-season record for saying "Oh, boy" after a head-scratching Phillies play. Or one of those innings when they load the bases and do not score. Or …

Oh, boy.

In that MLB interview, Manuel also intimated that some of his core guys may no longer be playing for the right reasons. Asked if his team's struggles were related to its advancing age, he said, “I think age definitely plays a part into it. And I also think success plays a big part into it. I think baseball has to be your No. 1 priority. Don't ask me the question, ‘Do I think our guys are not like that?' 'Cause I do have a lot of them that are. A lot of them do think the No. 1 priority is to win the game. But I'm sure on every team there are guys who don't feel that way and all that ties into how much you want it and how bad and also how much you love to play.

“I've seen guys over my career who have had a whole lot of success that do question themselves about how much they love the game and things like that. And there's a whole lot of things that go into play. And when you see performances drop off over the last 2 or 3 years, yes, that's a big concern of mine, yes.''

This was on May 23 by the way, amid Jimmy Rollins missing three games after the birth of his first child. Rollins used all the time allotted by Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, but it still didn't seem to sit well with the old-school manager who needed every veteran glove he could muster in his lineup. Rollins was also struggling mightily at the plate at the time.

He began to play better after that time off.

Does that make him smart or selfish? After years of playing it, watching it and even trying to manage some of the teams my kids were on as they grow up, this I believe to be true:

Trying to do too much in baseball often looks as if you're not trying at all.

If Victorino really didn't care he would have stood on second Sunday. If Pence really didn't care, he would have jogged toward that ball, got on a knee, taken his time. I am convinced that the recent struggles of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have come from trying to be too fine, trying too much to avoid another loss. They may have even been left in an inning too long at times because their manager was trying too hard to get to the closer. As for the bullpen — how might you feel if the nightly fate of this $176 million team rested on your major league minimum shoulders?

This I also believe to be true:

A taskmaster manager may be the last thing this team needs right now. n

Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com

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