Inside the Phillies: A key year for Charlie Manuel with Phillies

Charlie Manuel, who will be 69 on Friday, has not indicated that he wants this season to be his last.
Charlie Manuel, who will be 69 on Friday, has not indicated that he wants this season to be his last. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff)
Posted: January 03, 2013

The new year is here. Spring training is only 41 days away, and the Phillies' opening-day game in Atlanta is in 89 days.

Also, congratulations to Charlie Manuel, who officially replaced Andy Reid on Monday as the longest-tenured head coach or manager in Philadelphia.

This will be Manuel's ninth season as Phillies manager, and there is a presumption that it will be his last. But it's possible a significant run at another World Series title could change that thinking.

What's interesting is the similarity in the dynamics between Reid's penultimate season as Eagles head coach and what might have been the next-to-last season of Manuel's long run as Phillies manager.

The Eagles went 8-8 in 2011, but only after winning their final four games, which persuaded owner Jeffrey Lurie to give his head coach one more shot at winning that elusive Super Bowl. It's a decision that will live in Eagles infamy.

Meanwhile, across the street at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies are coming off an 81-81 season that would have looked a lot worse had the team not gone 44-31 after the all-star break.

If only Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay had been healthy . . .

There were cries in some corners for Manuel's job, but they never came close to the decibel level reached during the nightmarish .500 season turned in by Reid's "dream team." Manuel has a couple of things going for him that Reid did not. The biggest one, of course, is that 2008 World Series title.

Just as important in some ways is Manuel's likability.

Spend a considerable amount of time around Manuel, who will turn 69 Friday, and it's impossible not to like the man even if you're not a member of his inner circle. Spend considerable time around Reid and it's impossible to even know the man unless you are part of his inner circle.

Maybe that shouldn't matter when the job description is head coach, but it does.

Ultimately, however, it is team performance that dictates how long a manager or head coach sticks around. It would have been terribly wrong for the Phillies to dismiss Manuel after one .500 season that had been preceded by five division titles and seven winning seasons.

Like Reid, Manuel often has been criticized for his ability as an in-game strategist, a part of the job that will be more scrutinized than ever in 2013 because the Phillies have made the unorthodox decision to go without a bench coach.

Despite public perception, Manuel spends a lot of time thinking ahead about potential moves and matchups late in any given game, especially on the offensive side. Is it his greatest strength? No. But it also isn't as glaring a weakness as some people believe. Any late-game pitching decision has significant input from pitching coach Rich Dubee, a smart man whom Manuel trusts the most on his coaching staff.

Dubee, in fact, has had more influence over Manuel's decision-making than any of his bench coaches.

What's most different about Manuel's forthcoming season and the one that just earned Reid a much-deserved pink slip is that it seems obvious who will be the next manager of the Phillies.

Ryne Sandberg earned the respect of everyone in the organization, including Manuel, during his two seasons as the manager of triple-A Lehigh Valley.

It's impossible to know at this point exactly what kind of strategist or manager Sandberg will become at the major-league level, because managing in the minors is a completely different animal. It seems likely the Phillies will find out at some point, and it's entirely possible that the 2014 season will be Sandberg's first in charge of a big-league team.

The outcome of the 2013 season will have some impact on that decision. If the Phillies win the World Series, Manuel will deserve a chance to defend that title, if that's his decision. If the Phillies miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, the roar for change will intensify. Something in between - a wild-card berth and early playoff exit, for instance - would make the decision difficult unless Manuel voluntarily decided he has had enough.

At this point, Manuel has given no indication that he wants to call it quits after the 2013 season.

The perfect ending would be for Manuel to win a second World Series title and then retire into a Pat Gillick-type role with the Phillies. Perfect endings, of course, are almost as rare as an Eagles Super Bowl title.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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