Charlie Manuel: An Appreciation

Charlie Manuel: An Appreciation

from "The Phillie Phanatic's Parade of Champions" by Tom Burgoyne and illustrator Len Epstein

I remember a lot about Charlie Manuel's early days as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Mostly that people sure didn't like him, at all.

The 2005 team, in Manuel's first season, were the Bobby Abreu/Kenny Lofton/David Bell Phillies, the Ed Wade-built team that a whole lot of fans couldn't stand despite yearly winning records. And that extended to the manager.

He was as un-Philly as can be, a man who didn't talk or act anything like a "Philly guy." He was 60 when he was hired but could have passed for a decade older. Manuel spoke with a heavy regional accent of a region that is not ours, he made head-scratching strategic moves, and never explained them to anyone's satisfaction in the postgame press conference. Even though the '05 Phils won 88 games and weren't eliminated from playoff contention until the final day of the season, Charlie finished his first season far from a popular man.

Manuel followed Larry Bowa who, though a California native, was a longtime ex-Phillies player and veteran of the 1980 team who had an Italian-American surname, which sort of made him an honorary "Philly guy," unsuccessful as his managerial tenure was. Bowa had also been a member of the media in the past -- a vocation to which he's since returned -- and had some fans in that constituency.

In the first couple of years, a whole lot of fans either wished the Phils had kept Bowa and fired Ed Wade, or hired Jim Leyland instead of Charlie. And remember that weird conspiracy theory about how Manuel was only hired, first as hitting coach and then as manager, as some sort of backroom deal to appease Jim Thome?

Charlie had that postgame shouting match with Howard Eskin, and he fought septuagenarian ex-manager Dallas Green on the field before a game, in an incident I dubbed "Age in the Cage." Even Charlie's longtime fiancé lashed out at the city's "culture of negativity," in a much-forgotten episode right after the end of the 2005 season.

But after '05, Charlie was retained and Wade was fired. I remember when Pat Gillick was hired as general manager, and the talk radio conventional wisdom was that the Phils were now run by two out-of-town old guys. At one point, as the team struggled early in the '06 season, it looked like Charlie's firing could be imminent.

But then, suddenly, everything turned around. The team fought back and won the NL East in '07, overtaking the collapsing Mets on the last day of the season to end a 14-year postseason drought.

The next year, of course, they won the World Series, and Charlie showed up in the parade in a dapper suit. Three more NL East titles followed as the Phils established themselves as one of baseball's elite franchises.

There was still grumbling about in-game moves, of course. But after '08, most Phillies fans were pretty firmly on Team Charlie. Championships, after all, have a way of reversing bad first impressions. I always felt like the original rejection of Charlie Manuel had a lot more to do with the way he looked and talked than his actual skill as a manager, and over time fans got used to that.

And now he's out the door, the victim of having to manage a roster abominably constructed by GM Ruben Amaro, full of past-their-prime veterans, ill-advised free agent signees and non-prospects up from the farm. Sure, he was likely gone at the end of the year anyway. But it's still sad to see his Phillies tenure end the way it did. Manuel is the first manager fired at midseason from a team he won the World Series with since the Diamondbacks whacked Bob Brenly in 2004.

Of course Manuel made questionable strategic moves, and that continued throughout his career. But you know what? Name a great manager who didn't. Almost every manager in the majors uses their closer wrong and at least occasionally makes head-scratching decisions about the batting order and which pinch hitter to use. Don't believe me? Ask any fan of any team. And Charlie's inability to understand the double switch was always overstated. I think he had it figured out by May or June of his first year.

How well managers "get players to play for them" is hard to quantify, of course, but Charlie seemed to do all the little, behind-the-scenes things right. There was virtually never clubhouse turmoil on Manuel's Phillies and if there was, you never heard about it in the press. You never once heard a departed player trash Charlie on the way out of town.

And I don't want to hear any of this nonsense about how Charlie Manuel or the Phillies should be ashamed that they "only won one World Series." Winning a World Series is pretty damned hard, requiring a great deal of skill as well as luck. To denigrate the achievement of the 2008 title is to minimize what happened that fall which -- I think we can all agree -- was pretty damned awesome. That argument reminds me of the people who discounted the first six years of Donovan McNabb's career because "the NFC East was weak then."

Charlie Manuel won a World Series, got to another, led the team to five straight division titles and a 102-win season, and is the 130-year-old organization's all-time winningest manager. He's the only man on the planet who has coached or managed a Philadelphia sports team to a championship in the last 25 years. Does he deserve singular credit for those achievements? Of course not. But they didn't happen by accident either, and he had to have been doing something right.

It says a lot, however, that Phillies fans were nearly unanimous in reacting to Charlie's firing with either anger, sadness or both. Back in 2006, I wouldn't have guessed it would happen that way or, for that matter, that he wouldn't be fired for seven more years.

What's next? If Charlie wrote a memoir of his decades in the game, I'd absolutely read it. For all he was mocked for his drawl, I'd love to see him give broadcasting a shot. I could see some club, maybe one with a younger manager, bringing Charlie in as a bench coach. And it's not outside the realm of possibility that he gets another managing job.

Charlie Manuel is part of a vanishing breed in the game -- the pure baseball lifer. He came up as a player in the  late 1960s and has been around the game in a variety of capacities ever since. Read Mark Bechtel's great Sports Illustrated profile of Charlie from June 2009, if you haven't before -- some great stories, and even greater appreciation for the man.

Most of all, Charlie proved that you don't necessarily have to be a "Philly guy" to succeed in Philly.

Stephen Silver is  a local journalist who writes for EntertainmentTell and Philadelphia magazine's Philly Post. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver

No, 24 Temple ready to make more history in Military Bowl vs. Wake Forest

USA Today Images

No, 24 Temple ready to make more history in Military Bowl vs. Wake Forest

Less than 24 hours after senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins put Temple’s American Athletic Conference trophy in its case at Edberg-Olson Hall, it had to be taken out again.

There were too many fingerprints on the championship hardware from all the people holding it after Temple’s 34-10  win against Navy on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. Now clean, the trophy is back in its secure spot as a reminder of one of the program's biggest accomplishments.

“When we go back to 10th and Diamond and see that trophy case, ‘We can say, Dang. Like that’s us,’” Dawkins said. “We did this. We built this. We started this legacy at Temple with coach Rhule.”

Dawkins and the Owls will have another opportunity to build on their "legacy" when they travel back to Annapolis for the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 against Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons, who play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, finished the year 6-6 after losing its last three games.

“I think for us there’s two reasons,” Rhule said of the Owls’ decision to return to Annapolis for a bowl game. “We wanted to play a Power 5 team. We wanted to play an ACC or SEC team. And I think once we won there, and we saw what our crowd was there. I think this will just be a tremendous opportunity for all of Temple people to come down and see us play an ACC team.”

Last year’s Temple seniors went down as one of the best senior classes in program history. They went to the program's first bowl game in five years, they were ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in 36 years, and they won 10 games for just the second time in program history.

This season, Temple has matched those marks with one game still left to go. When the Owls play in the Military Bowl, they’ll make program history by appearing in bowl games in consecutive years. On Sunday, the Owls appeared in the College Football Playoff (No. 24), Associated Press (No. 23) and USA Today Coaches poll (No. 24) rankings for the first time this season. A Temple team ranked in consecutive seasons is another first.

Even after clinching the AAC title on Saturday, there’s still more this team can do. The Owls haven’t won a bowl game since 2009. Temple ended 2015 with a loss to Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl, which dropped the Owls from the final rankings. Rhule hopes his team can end this season in the Top 25. They’ve only done it once before - in 1979, when Wayne Hardin’s group finished No. 17 after a 10-2 year.

“I’m a big believer in legacy," Rhule said. "And I try to talk to our players about, ‘When you come back, the memories you’ll have, but also the things that will remind you of the things that you did, your accomplishments. And when they look up this team, we’d like to have a number next to it. It tells you that we’re one of the top teams in the country.”

The Owls also have a shot at the 11th win that eluded the 2015 team. Including this year’s team, Temple has had three 10-win seasons in its history. No Temple team has ever won more.

“Right now, we’re going to celebrate,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick said after Saturday’s game. “This was a big accomplishment. Once we figure out which bowl game we’re going to and it’s time to start preparing for the bowl game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in with a championship-caliber mind again, that way we can get an 11th win and hopefully end this thing 11-3.”

After another low point for Eagles, Doug Pederson says they're trying

After another low point for Eagles, Doug Pederson says they're trying

CINCINNATI – As a light rain began to fall on a chilly Midwest night, the Eagles, more dejected than they’ve been all season, made their way through the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium to their buses to begin the long trek back to Philadelphia.

After starting their season with three straight wins, the Eagles have been losers in seven of their last nine games after getting trounced 32-14 by a Bengals team that entered Sunday with just three wins (see Instant Replay). The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

Hey, at least they tried real hard.

“It’s not for lack of effort,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s just the discipline of your assignments, your jobs. And just collectively just focus on that one play at one time. But it’s not for lack of effort.”

Effort was a buzz-worthy word after the Eagles’ 27-13 loss to the Packers last Monday night. It was the reason Pederson cited when he said his team was going in the right direction despite the compounding losses.

Then the Eagles came out five days later and played what was perhaps their worst game of the 2016 season. Carson Wentz and the Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the NFL through the season's first three weeks.

It seems like a long time ago. Things have gone the other way after the Week 4 bye.

The Eagles found another low point on Sunday (see 10 observations from the loss).

“Well, obviously very disappointed in the way we played,” Pederson said. “That’s the first thing. And it’s a collective effort, all three phases tonight. ... I just mentioned to the team after the game that we individually, myself included, I tell you guys this every week. I’m the hardest critic on myself. I’m with that group in that locker room. And we all have to take a collective effort, but individually take that collective effort and just look at yourself in the mirror. The man in the mirror and see if we’re doing enough.”

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Eagles’ offense was stagnant until garbage time and their defense allowed a banged-up Bengals offense to score on each of its first six possessions.

When the Eagles have been at their best this season, they’ve played complementary football. The offense holds the ball on long scoring drives while the defense gets off the field and gives them the ball back. It’s been a formula for success for a team with a rookie quarterback and a defense that was supposed to be its strength.

During the last couple of months, the Eagles have done just the opposite. The offense can’t stay on the field and the defense can’t get off of it.

When asked what happened from the 3-0 start to now, Pederson pointed toward right tackle Lane Johnson’s suspension, a few injuries and other teams having film on Wentz and their offense.

“It all just begins to snowball and obviously gets us in this situation,” Pederson said.

The situation the Eagles find themselves in is this: There are still four games left to play in the 2016 season whether they like it or not.  

“We still have a month of football left and three of the next four are division opponents,” Pederson said. “We’ve got some challenges. I told the guys in the locker room at the end of the game, this thing can go one of two ways and I only know the way it’s going to go. And that’s up. We just have to dig ourselves out of this hole and it starts next week.”

A couple of weeks ago, despite the losing, the Eagles were still in a very good position in terms of the playoff race. That has obviously changed. While not mathematically eliminated, the Eagles are a long shot, to put it mildly.  

Now, the season is about getting through while minimizing the damage, especially with several young players in key roles, specifically at the quarterback position.

“We learn from it, No. 1,” Pederson said. “And that’s the thing with young players, putting them in those situations right now. It’s just a learning experience for them. I just know this: it’s going to make us better with those players. It’s going to make us better. Again, we’ve got a month left and we’re going to continue to work hard.”

After the loss to the Packers six days ago, Pederson said it would be on him to make sure all of this didn’t spiral out of control.

And he seemed genuinely convinced it wouldn’t happen. But Sunday’s loss to the Bengals brought up similar questions about effort and brought back similar responses about each guy looking themselves in the mirror and correcting it.

Why is Pederson convinced the team is still all in?

“I can just go into that locker room and talk to each one individually and just look at their faces and see how they feel,” he said. “And they’re all dejected. That tells me enough right there, that we’re still together and they’re with everything that we’re doing. It’s going to be a great test for our leadership on the team. And the guys are going to have to rally, even the young guys. Everybody has to, myself included, we have to demand excellence. Is it going to be perfect all the time? No, it’s not. But you have to go in with enough pride and enough want-to that you want that perfection and nothing less than that.”

Not getting blown out next week at home against Washington would be a good place to start.