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

Former Eagle Byron Maxwell benched by Dolphins

Former Eagle Byron Maxwell benched by Dolphins

Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell is not starting tonight against the Bengals. Maxwell, who the Eagles traded this past offseason, was already seeing his playing time diminish. Now, he will sit in favor of Tony Lippett, who has not seen a single snap for the Dolphins this season.

The Eagles big trade this offseason keeps getting better and better.  They acquired the 8th overall pick in the draft in exchange for the 13 overall pick, Maxwell and Kiko Alonzo. Not only were they able to rid themselves of Maxwell’s awful contract, but they were able to get value for a player who is now not considered an NFL starter. 

The 8th overall pick that the Eagles acquired from Miami was flipped to the Browns among other picks to move up to number two. As you may know, that number two pick became offensive rookie of the month Carson Wentz. 

At the time of the trade, Maxwell originally failed his physical due to a shoulder injury. It was reported that the shoulder was so bad that he could not perform a simple pushup, but the Dolphins traded for him anyway.

The Byron Maxwell trade was the stepping stone for the Eagles to land their quarterback of the future, and this news can only make them feel better about the move. Howie Roseman had an incredible offseason cleaning up the mess Chip Kelly left behind, and Maxwell’s benching will certainly help his case for executive of the year. 

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens (Noel) - Jahlil (Okafor) thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist.