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

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

Tuesday is a big day in the progression of the 2017 Eagles

The team is finally all together as OTAs kick off at the NovaCare Complex. We've already looked at the biggest storylines of the week (see story), but how about the individual players? 

Well, let's look at five offensive and five defensive players to watch this week, leaving out Carson Wentz. Yeah, we're going to watch the QB. 

Offense

Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery won't be hard to spot. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver was brought in on a one-year deal this offseason. He's been in Philly working out, but this will be his first time at a real practice with his new team. Maybe we'll quickly get a sense of his chemistry with Wentz. 

Torrey Smith
At his introductory press conference in March, Smith was asked about his speed and responded by jokingly challenging a reporter to a race. While that never happened, it's fair to wonder what the Eagles are getting in Smith. He wasn't the same player in San Francisco, so we'll get to see if he has some gas left in the tank. 

Donnel Pumphrey
We already got a glimpse of Pumphrey during rookie camp, but didn't get a long time to watch practice. At OTAs, we'll see everything. The biggest thing that stood out about Pumphrey a couple weeks ago was his size — or lack of size. How will Doug Pederson use his new weapon? We might get some hints this week. 

LeGarrette Blount
Pumphrey and Blount technically play the same position, yet Blount is 74 pounds heavier. To put that in perspective, 74 pounds is about the weight of an average 10-year-old. Blount has been in the league for nearly a decade, but he's in a new offense in Philly (without a true tight end), so we'll see where he is in a short time with the team.  

Taylor Hart
Normally we wouldn't put an offensive lineman on a list of guys to watch in shorts, but Hart is transitioning from defensive tackle to offensive tackle and this is the first chance to see him on offense. Worth watching. He was pretty excited about the switch in January (see story).

Defense

Timmy Jernigan
Honestly, it's harder to evaluate defensive players during OTAs because there's no hitting, and it's even harder to evaluate linemen. Jernigan, though, is worth watching because he's replacing Bennie Logan. 

Rasul Douglas
We've already seen Douglas at rookie camp, but he was really looking forward to lining up against some veterans like Jeffery. Douglas was a third-rounder, but he might be more important to the team in 2017 than any other rookie simply because of his position. 

Patrick Robinson
Speaking of the cornerback position, this week is the first of seeing Robinson, who signed a one-year deal that's mostly gone forgotten. The 29-year-old former first-round pick is coming off a rough yearlong stint with the Colts, but was much better in 2015 with the Chargers. He's on a prove-it deal, so who knows if he'll be the Eagles' best option. 

Ron Brooks
One of the biggest losses the Eagles suffered during the 2016 season was when Brooks went down with a bad leg injury. No, Brooks wasn't great before the injury, but he was the team's slot corner, which kept Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Not sure where Brooks is in his recovery, but don't forget about him. Jim Schwartz clearly likes Brooks. 

Joe Walker
Walker is recovering from an ACL tear from last preseason. He was lining up to be the team's backup middle linebacker before the injury and the 2016 seventh-round pick will probably have the inside track to win that job this year ... as long as he regains his form from before the injury. 

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.