Inside the Phillies: What it was like to cover Manuel

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watches the game on Friday, June 18, 2010 at the Citizens Bank Park. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watches the game on Friday, June 18, 2010 at the Citizens Bank Park. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer ) (Ronald Cortes)
Posted: August 19, 2013

The door was open to Charlie Manuel's office, and the manager was fidgety. The summers blend together now because there were many. But this was three years ago, on a weekday morning at Wrigley Field, during happier days for a man who dedicated his life to baseball. Chances are he beat every one of his players to the ancient ballpark. Baseball needed Charlie Manuel.

He wanted to talk to someone. Anyone. Manuel radiated in the hours before a game. He told jokes. He taught hitting. He held small children.

He saw a writer, almost one-third his age, and bellowed, "Hey, son!" The door closed. We talked about life. We talked about baseball.

"I think I'll keep this job for a while," Manuel said. He wore a red Phillies shirt with the sleeves cut. He leaned back. "You sit in this seat, and you'll see some things."

He paused.

"You'll see everything."

For nine years, Manuel cherished the seat. He forced Ruben Amaro Jr. to take it from him 42 games early. It is difficult to imagine this city ever developing a visceral connection to a manager or coach like the one it had with Manuel, one that culminated in a sea of sadness Friday, on the most surreal of days.

Manuel loved Philadelphia back, except for the fans who begged him to play small ball. He mentioned that disdain before Wednesday's game in Atlanta. It was an odd subject for the 69-year-old manager to broach, but we understood later when the world discovered Manuel had been fired earlier that day.

He was defiant until the very end. ("I've never quit nothing.") He once described his ego as "bigger than Houston." He shared his passion; that is why people loved him despite whatever shortcomings he had in the dugout. A few Phillies employees - not just Amaro - cried Friday.

Manuel's legacy in this city will be 2008, and the day he yelled, "Hey, this is for Philadelphia!" But for those who spent time around Manuel daily, he always will be remembered for the way he treated people.

"I feel like I'm in heaven," a former Phillies coach once said. Winning made everyone happy. Winning under Manuel was unmatched.

Everyone laughed at the way Manuel said things. Brad Lidge had a hibiscus injury, not a meniscus problem. Domonic Brown did not fracture his hamate, he broke his ham bone. Martin Prado became Pardo, and we started calling him Don.

That was Manuel's greatest trick. Humor is required to survive 162 games of baseball and six weeks of spring training.

"You hear his country accent and think he's a little bit slow," Jimmy Rollins said, "but he's sharp as a tack."

Manuel once said he keeps five copies of Ted Williams' Science of Hitting in his house. Four are in bathrooms and another is in the den. Five more copies reside in a closet just in case a visitor has somehow never read the book.

He studied the aphorisms of Vince Lombardi and Abraham Lincoln. Before 2008, Manuel was called a hick and lambasted. He had the last laugh Friday, when a local sports-talk radio station solicited its listeners for tributes to Manuel.

The Phillies have offered him a different job, although Manuel said he could manage for a few more seasons. Maybe he can. I doubt it. The modern ballplayer infuriates Manuel. He has the chance to pursue his most sincere love in the minors.

"I don't know," Manuel said in April when asked about his future. "I'd probably go somewhere and teach someone how to hit."

Last season, Manuel interrupted me mid-question during a postgame news conference. He was angry; his team crumbled before him, and the answers were increasingly difficult. A team official stopped me in the hallway. "Charlie wants to see you in his office," he said.

I waited there as Manuel showered to the sound of a NASCAR race on his TV. He slipped on black alligator shoes and sat behind his desk. He wanted to answer my question. For 10 minutes, he spoke in great detail. He allowed a cocky writer in his early 20s the chance to earn his trust and respect.

We said goodbye. I walked past the framed quotations from Harry S. Truman, Christy Mathewson, Billy Martin, and Walter Alston that will no longer line the manager's office at Citizens Bank Park. I turned the corner before Manuel's voice called back.

"Hey, son!" Manuel said. "I wasn't going to yell at you."

He winked.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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