Sam Donnellon: Dump Charlie? Be careful what you wish for

Posted: August 16, 2012

AS THE Phillies play out 2 months worth of games that are more about pride than playoff implications, the discussion of Charlie Manuel's future crops up almost daily. Even in the best of times, and that includes a 102-victory season and two consecutive World Series appearances, Manuel has received constant criticism for game management, lineup decisions and his unwavering faith in veterans like Jimmy Rollins - even as that faith seems, at times, to go unappreciated and unrewarded.

Now, though, amid a season sabotaged by injuries, faulty roster construction and a traded-out minor league system, there is a daily drumbeat that sounds something like this: He is too easy on players; his in-game decisions cost his team games; he is not as smart as the managers he goes up against, particularly in the playoffs.

Never mind that he beat Joe Torre's team twice and upset Joe Maddon's in 2008. It's what has he done lately? His 102-victory team lost to Tony La Russa. Bruce Bochy beat him the year before.

Charlie was just in the right place at the right time, the beneficiary of a talented team all peaking at the right time. So goes the rewrite. It's the same devaluation of Terry Francona's term in Boston, which is why he no longer wears their uniform, despite managing two World Series winners after a drought of 86 years.

It's also part of why Bobby Valentine now does. Francona was seen as both a players' manager and as Theo Epstein's manager, and when the Red Sox collapsed last September amid stories of starting pitchers feasting on fried chicken and beer during their off days, Tito was fired and Epstein was allowed to seek employment elsewhere.

In came Valentine, with a well-chronicled past of dust-ups with players, coaches, bosses and, of course, one infamous dugout disguise after being ejected that only accentuated a reputation for self-promotion. Hired by first-year general manager Ben Cherington, Valentine's strengths were considered to be game management and holding people accountable - sometimes, critics argue, brutally.

Well, the Red Sox are a mess and so is Valentine's relationship with many on his team, or so goes the daily drumbeat up there these days. A Yahoo.com story Tuesday detailed a meeting with ownership last month attended by as many as 17 players, in which several asserted they could not play for Valentine. Among their complaints was a game this season in which Valentine left Jon Lester in a game in which he ultimately allowed 11 runs.

My pet theory always has been that Valentine was hired to be fired in a way that most managers are not, that Cherington knew this was likely to be a rough year for Red Six Nation and wanted Valentine to be the Russian front guy, rather than him. Bobby V is buying Ben some time to get his feet wet, to make honest assessments, to retool for 2013.

Charlie's case is a bit more complicated. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying that Manuel would not be judged until the real Phillies were on the field, but that was back when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay were missing, before Carlos Ruiz went on the disabled list and Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton were dealt at the trade deadline.

While that sharpened the focus on what the remainder of this season was to be about, it may have clouded the future that Manuel, in the first year of a 2-year contract extension worth about $4 million per season, faces. The real Phillies, really, were never on the field in 2012. At least the team that won 102 games the year before wasn't. Jose Contreras went down with a season-ending injury early, Michael Stutes too and Antonio Bastardo is either in desperate need of a Spanish-speaking Dr. Joel Fish, or a third pitch.

So given Ruben's own words, we are left with this: If Manuel could not be judged while managing a team that included Ruiz, Victorino and Pence in its everyday lineup, how can he be judged now, while managing one that sends out Kevin Frandzen, Eric Kratz, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry on a near-nightly basis?

Or one trying out Michael Schwimer in an eighth-inning role?

The only way is if the team's starting pitchers begin to drink beer and eat chicken on their off days, or if a bunch of them march into Ruben's office and demand a change. Neither is likely to happen. Manuel has refrained from publicly criticizing guys, although he came awfully close when Rollins took the maximum amount of days off for paternity leave allowed under the collective bargaining agreement back in June, when the team was already depleted and already scrapping.

He still wanders the clubhouse on most days for private pep talks, still keeps a positive outlook about his underachieving players, which contrasts the poisonous air that now surrounds Boston's season. That doesn't insulate Manuel from criticism about bad lineups and late-inning moves. But it should factor into any discussion about getting rid of him.

Be careful what you wish for, people. Because it's very likely Bobby Valentine will be looking for work once this season ends.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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