With Manuel gone, here come the broadsides

There have been some searing comments in the wake of Charlie Manuels dismissal from the managing job he held so successfully for nine years.
There have been some searing comments in the wake of Charlie Manuels dismissal from the managing job he held so successfully for nine years. (CHRIS SZAGOLA / AP)
Posted: August 23, 2013

If baseballs at Citizens Bank Park had been hit with the same ferocity as the recent comments in circulation, Charlie Manuel still would be in the Phillies dugout and Ryne Sandberg would be coaching third base.

Don't be fooled by the laid-back deliveries of the things being said in the wake of Manuel's dismissal from the managing job he held so successfully for nine years. It's like being bitten by a tick. You may not immediately notice, but the pain caused by the words can still be searing.

Some of the scorching commentary came from Manuel.

The former manager told CSNPhilly.com that he knew entering the last two seasons that the Phillies didn't have any more chance of winning than a Ben Revere fly ball has of leaving the ballpark. That's a thinly veiled shot at general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who certainly deserves the lion's share of the blame for the Phillies' great fall from the top of the National League East.

Manuel was giving his honest opinion to this question: Did you feel you had the pieces to win the last two years?

"The last two years, no," he said. "I can straight-face tell you that."

It's never good when the manager doesn't like his team's chances before the first pitch of the season is thrown.

Manuel made similar comments throughout this season. He obviously was not enamored with the roster handed to him by Amaro, and at one point when the team was still hanging around .500 a few months ago, he even suggested the Phillies were overachieving.

Meanwhile, in Lakewood, N.J., Roy Halladay provided more heat after his BlueClaws rehab outing than he did during it. In one breath Tuesday night, Halladay said he loved Manuel but then followed that up by endorsing Sandberg's appointment as a manager who will address "some issues that I thought were being overlooked."

That certainly can be construed as a shot at his former manager, although Halladay made it clear before Wednesday's game against Colorado that he in no way wanted to offend Manuel.

"I just want to make it well known that I have a lot of respect for Charlie," Halladay said. "There were some articles put out that offended me and I'm sure offended Charlie. And I called him today and talked to him about it. I loved playing for him. He was a great manager . . . and he was a lot of the reason they won the World Series here. I just want to make that point clear."

Lost in the focus on Manuel was Halladay's indictment of some unnamed teammates.

"Guys being at places on time, being on the field on time, taking ground balls, taking extra BP," Halladay said when asked what was specifically lacking under Manuel's leadership this season. "All of those little things that nobody thinks make a difference. It's been very good so far [under Sandberg]."

Halladay didn't name names, but there's an obvious plan in motion to get veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins more engaged in team activities and less concerned about breaking some of those individual team records that are within his reach.

Sandberg also has the challenge of getting closer Jonathan Papelbon and starter Cliff Lee more engaged in what he hopes to accomplish as the manager. It was clear at the trade deadline that those two would not have objected to going elsewhere, but they are still here. They have the talent to be part of the solution, and it is up to the new manager to make sure they do not become a gigantic clubhouse problem.

Of course, there is no rule that says players cannot police their own clubhouse. Just last week, former Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth yelled at pitcher Gio Gonzalez in the dugout because he saw something he didn't like from his Washington teammate.

Halladay and second baseman Chase Utley are often described as quiet leaders, and any player would do well to copy their work ethic. Neither player, however, feels comfortable as a true vocal leader.

To take this full circle, it goes back to what Manuel said he felt about the Phillies during the last two spring trainings. Clubhouse chemistry, extra work, hustle, and being on time are important, but those are almost always trumped by talent, which is what the Phillies lack most right now.

Yasiel Puig doesn't always hit the cutoff man for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it's not a big deal because he keeps on hitting for a team that is winning at a mind-boggling pace. Nobody minded much when Rollins was late in 2008.

Talent and winning cover flaws and create chemistry. Lack of talent and losing cause controversy.

Only the general manager can fix that problem, and it's a lot more difficult than getting guys to hustle and show up on time.

Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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