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

NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has undergone surgery on the right shoulder that's bothered him the past two seasons.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced Thursday on Twitter that Luck was recovering from successful outpatient surgery. Irsay says Luck will be ready for the 2017 season.

Luck was listed on the Colts injury report throughout this season and missed several practices, with coach Chuck Pagano saying the team had a plan for keeping Luck healthy while he dealt with a sore throwing shoulder.

Luck missed two games early in the 2015 season because of the shoulder injury. He threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns this past season after signing a six-year, $140 million contract in June.

Roethlisberger chasing Brady 
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger intended for the moment to be private. The camera following him to midfield and the microphone tucked inside Tom Brady's shoulder pads ended up making that impossible.

Their brief exchange before Brady and the New England Patriots visited the Pittsburgh Steelers in October provided a snapshot into a rivalry that never was. They bro-hugged. They lamented the left knee injury that forced Roethlisberger out the lineup on that warm late fall afternoon.

And then Roethlisberger made an uncharacteristic request : a signed Brady jersey to hang on the wall in Roethlisberger's home office next to Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.

"I consider him one, if not the best of all-time," Roethlisberger said.

A group Roethlisberger does not include himself in.

Not even with as many championships as Brady's longtime friend and occasional foil Peyton Manning (two). Not even with a spot in the top 10 in just about every major statistical category out there on Roethlisberger's still growing resume. Not even with a bust in Canton one day alongside Brady and the rest of the guys whose jerseys adorn the walls of his home almost assured regardless of what happens in Sunday's AFC title game.

The reason is simple: rings. Brady has four, including two he earned while carving a path through the playoffs that included victories in Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2004. Roethlisberger has two, neither of which required Roethlisberger or the Steelers to take out Brady along the way.

It's why Roethlisberger just shakes his head when asked if he's part of the "gold standard" label that he so eagerly attaches to Brady.

"Not as (his) level," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously, with all the Super Bowls he has."

This weekend provides Roethlisberger his best - and maybe his last - chance to do to Brady what Brady has done to so many others over the last 16 years. Even if the last thing Roethlisberger wants to do is get pulled into the "star quarterback vs. star quarterback" narrative that fueled so many showdowns between Brady and Manning through the years.

"It's obviously bigger than the two of us," Roethlisberger said. "I know he is used to it, with the Peyton Manning and Tom thing. This is two football teams that have won championships. Us going against each other is more than just one man. We aren't playing tennis. We are going out there to play a football game with 11 guys at a time."

Salute to service award finalists
HOUSTON -- Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva are the finalists for the NFL's Salute to Service Award.

The winner of the honor, presented by USAA, the official military appreciation sponsor of the league, will be announced during NFL Honors the night before the Super Bowl. Both Quinn's and Villanueva's teams, of course, are still in the running to play in that game on Feb. 5.

Quinn and Villanueva were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community.

Last spring, Quinn hosted a "Rookie Club Olympics" for which he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Falcons' training facility to participate. He created the event as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.

"The military represents team on the highest level," says Quinn, who in his second year as Atlanta's coach and has it hosting the NFC championship game Sunday against Green Bay. "It's an honor to be up for this award that recognizes the standard of excellence set by our nation's military and encourages our community to give back and support service members and their families who serve our nation."

Quinn also stages a military day at training camp and hosts 20 military members at each Falcons home game throughout the season. He also provided an opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to attend the Falcons' Salute to Service game on Nov. 27. All 63 families attending were given a VIP visit at practice and were provided a one-night hotel stay in Atlanta courtesy of Quinn. Each player wore the initials of a fallen hero on his helmet during the game and during practice; the families were given a replica helmet of that player with a personalized note in honor of their hero.

Last offseason, Quinn led four Falcons players on a weeklong USO tour through the Pacific.

Villanueva grew up as a military child, living in the United States and Europe, where he played high school football. He then attended West Point, where he was a tight end, and was commissioned in the Army in 2010.

Promoted to captain in 2014, Villanueva was deployed three times. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for heroism in combat.

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

ap-phillies-odubel-herrera.jpg
AP

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

STAMFORD, Conn. – January 19, 2017 – NBC Sports Regional Networks today announced an agreement with MLBAM to stream local market MLB games, as well as pre- and postgame shows, beginning with the 2017 regular season. This new streaming offering is available at no additional cost to authenticated pay TV subscribers of NBC Sports Group’s CSN regional sports networks (RSNs). This local initiative advances NBCUniversal’s implementation of “TV Everywhere,” which strives to make quality content available to authenticated customers both in and out of the home, and on multiple platforms.

CSN’s local streaming allows authenticated viewers in their respective markets to live stream games and related programming that is carried by their pay TV provider of the Chicago Cubs (CSN Chicago), Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago), Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia), Oakland Athletics (CSN California) and San Francisco Giants (CSN Bay Area). Game broadcast schedules will be announced at a later date.

“This is a home run for our local sports fans,” said David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks, and NBC Sports Group Platform and Content Strategy. “We are constantly looking for ways to better serve our fans and provide comprehensive coverage of their favorite teams. With the addition of MLB in-market streaming rights, they don’t have to miss a pitch.”

The addition of MLB authenticated in-market streaming completes the local streaming portfolio for the NBC Sports Regional Networks, which also includes local NBA and NHL live streaming. The RSNs first introduced NBA streaming in 2014 and last fall announced the addition of NHL in-market streaming, beginning with the 2016-17 season. 

The NBC Sports Regional Networks now have partnerships for in-market streaming of the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (CSN Bay Area/CSN California); Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago); Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals (CSN Mid-Atlantic); Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia); and Boston Celtics (CSN New England).

Authenticated CSN subscribers can access live MLB, NBA and NHL games, as well as other sports programming, anywhere in the United States.  During the 2017 MLB season, all in-market MLB games will be streamed on the respective local CSN regional network site on PCs as well as on the NBC Sports app—NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets and connected TVs. The NBC Sports app is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.