In Cleveland, Manuel recalls his powerful Indians teams

In Cleveland, Manuel recalls his powerful Indians teams
May 1, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Charlie Manuel sat in the visiting dugout at Progressive Field and gazed out past center field and into downtown Cleveland and wondered what could have been.

Manuel won a World Series in his fourth year with the Phillies.

He never got a fourth year with the Indians.

“It would have been nice if would have won a World Series,” Manuel said. “I always thought we had the team to do it, but we didn’t get it done for some reason.”

Manuel lasted just 2½ years as manager of the Indians, winning 90 and 91 games in his two full seasons. The Indians reached the playoffs in 2001, losing in five games in the AL Divisional Series.

The Indians fired Manuel when the 2002 team opened up 39-47, and he resurfaced in Philly in 2005.

“Yeah, I’ve got good memories of here,” said Manuel, who was the Indians’ hitting coach from 1988-89 and again from 1994-99. “I remember the days when I was a hitting coach and all the players that we had. It was fantastic.

“I remember the balls that [Mark] McGwire hit. I remember the year Albert [Belle] hit 50 homers and 50 doubles [1995], and he used to hit a lot of balls off the fence. I remember a home run that Kenny Lofton hit one night off off [Arthur] Rhodes, and it was about an eight- or nine- or 10-pitch at-bat, and he hit one into left-center that won the game for us.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of memories when I sit and think about it.”

Those were some mighty offensive teams. The Indians averaged 207 homers per season during the seven years from 1994 through 2000, most of anybody in the American League.

“I’ve been in baseball, what, 51 or 52 years, and I think some of the lineups we had here in Cleveland were definitely among the most potent and the best as far as balance and the way we hit the ball,” Manuel said.

“I think that we hit the ball hard consistently. We hit the ball hard. We could be down five, six, seven, eight runs, that was nothing for us to come back. I remember we had a full house every night and I remember them stomping their feet and stuff and it was real loud. Everything about it was good.”

Things are different these days. The Indians have made the playoffs just once since Manuel was fired, and they haven’t had a winning record since 2007.

Manuel takes his share of criticism in Philly, but the Phillies have averaged 91 wins in his eight full seasons at the helm, with five straight NL East titles from 2007 through 2011.

“We’ve been to two World Series, of course we won one, but it would have been nice if we could have won some more in that time when we won our division,” Manuel said.

“Just a break here and a break there and you can do that. The more I stay into baseball and I say this every day and I think the Philly media hears me say it, the more I’m around the game, people don’t even see how much luck’s involved.

“You could never put a percent on what luck does in a game. To get to a World Series is big, but to win it is even harder.”

Manuel, who turns 70 in January, said again he hopes to remain the Phillies’ manager after this season and said he has no intention of retiring. He said he wants to manage as long as he can and believes he can still be successful.

What will he do when his managing career finally ends?

“I don’t know,” he said. “Probably teach somebody to hit.”

Manuel needs 41 wins to become the 59th manager in major-league history to win 1,000 games.

Only 15 of the 58 who’ve already done it have a better winning percentage than his career .553 mark. Manuel has managed 10 full seasons and never had a losing record.

“It’s kind of funny -- it just seems like it was yesterday, really,” he said of his days in Cleveland. “It seems like it went by quick. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve been fortunate and I appreciate it, really. I’m grateful for it, and I still like doing it.

“I look at managing in the major leagues, every day has been a special day and that’s kind of how I look at it, and that’s kind of how I approach it, and our philosophy works, and I want to keep it that way.”

Manuel was told by a Cleveland writer that Lake Buena Vista, Va., has a sign identifying the tiny village as the hometown of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

“Yeah,” Manuel said with a laugh. “They tell me the day I get fired, they’re going to take it down.”

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