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

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

The NFL isn't the only league with a draft coming up this month.

Julius Erving and Allen Iverson have some work to do, too.

The newly-formed BIG3 three-on-three league will hold the first player draft for its eight teams on April 30 in Las Vegas. Iverson is a player, captain and coach for 3's Company. Erving is the coach of Tri-State.

The BIG3 comes to the Wells Fargo center on July 16 during Week 4 of 10.

There are 24 spots remaining on the rosters. Over 70 former NBA players are hoping to be selected. Former Sixers Jumaine Jones, Larry Hughes, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Xavier Silas, and Lee Nailon are among those eligible for the draft.

Other draft entrants include (in alphabetical order): Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Marcus Banks, Keith Bogans, Earl Boykins, Derrick Byars, Josh Childress, Brian Cook, Ndudi Ebi, Steve Francis, Kendall Gill, Donte Greene, Shane Heal, Mike James, Ivan Johnson, Voshon Lenard, Rashad McCants, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Lawrence Moten, Ronald "Flip" Murray, Andre Owens, Smush Parker, Jamario Moon, Ruben Patterson, Isaiah "J.R." Rider, Eddie Robinson, four-time All-Star Latrell Sprewell, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Sweetney, Etan Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and James White.

How the rosters currently stand:

3's Company: Allen Iverson (captain, player-coach), DerMarr Johnson (captain)

Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Player X, Rick Barry (coach)

Ghost Ballers: Captains Mike Bibby (captain), Ricky Davis (captain), George Gervin (coach)

Killer 3s: Chauncey Billups (captain), Stephen Jackson (captain), Charles Oakley (player-coach)

Power: Corey Maggette (captain), Cuttino Mobley (captain), Clyde Drexler (coach)

Three-Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis (captain), Jason Williams (captain), Gary Payton (coach)

Trilogy: Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (captain), Rick Mahorn (coach)

Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal (captain), Bonzi Wells (captain), Julius Erving (coach)

The BIG3 was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. It will kick off June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Roob's 25 Random Points: NFL draft edition

Roob's 25 Random Points: NFL draft edition

This isn't an entirely random 25 Random Points because we are three days away from the NFL draft, so it's kind of top-heavy in random draft thoughts.

But there's also the usual nonsense about regional rail, parallel parking, pro bowling, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the best live band in Philly.

Sorry if this one isn't quite random enough. I promise the next one will be far more pointless! 

1. There's a chance the Eagles will select a defensive end in the first round of this year's draft and if they do there's a chance he'll be a terrific, productive player. Historically? That hasn't been the case. In fact, no team in NFL history has been worse drafting defensive ends. Nobody. Let's start with this: In the last 30 years, there have been only 11 defensive ends league-wide who were drafted in the first round and never recorded more than four sacks. Only one team has drafted more than one of those 11 and that's the Eagles, who drafted three of them: Jon Harris in 1997, Jerome McDougle in 2003 and Marcus Smith in 2014. Now, Smith is still active and can add to his total if he makes the roster. But four sacks in three years doesn't augur well for the future.

2. Now consider this: Since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982, the Eagles have selected nine defensive ends in the first three rounds of the draft. Those nine players have averaged 3.4 sacks per season in an Eagles uniform. Yep. Fewer than 3 1/2 sacks per season! Who has the highest average of the group? None other than the unfairly maligned Mike Mamula, who had 31 1/2 sacks in five seasons as an Eagle -- 6.3 per season. Nobody else is close: Brandon Graham (4.1 sacks per season), Vinny Curry (3.8), Derrick Burgess (2.8), Greg Jefferson (2.7), Victor Abiamiri (1.3), Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (1.0), Jerome McDougle (1.0), Jon Harris (1.0). 

So of the nine defensive ends the Eagles have drafted in the first three rounds, Mamula has been, by far, the most productive. And six averaged fewer than 3.0 sacks a season in an Eagles uniform. And I didn't even include Chris Gocong, a college defensive end who the Eagles converted to linebacker. It's really hard to be this bad at something!

3. Everybody loves mock drafts. They're so popular now that many analysts do multiple versions of the first round and then they keep "updating" their mocks as the draft gets closer. Which makes me wonder what the purpose of those earlier mock drafts is. You're basically saying ... 'OK, this is completely wrong and I'm going to fix it soon, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway because OMG IT'S A MOCK DRAFT. And then I'm going to change it next week and throw it out there again and more people will read it because OMG IT'S A MOCK DRAFT! And it will be completely wrong again.' People love reading mock drafts even though deep down they understand they're meaningless!

4. It also cracks me up when analysts breathlessly claim that a player is DROPPING DOWN THE DRAFT BOARD or SHOOTING UP THE DRAFT BOARD. Actually, they're really not. There is often a perception of players rising and falling, but most of the time it's not really happening. NFL teams set their boards based on a lot of information, most of which the public never sees. When bits of that information leak out, then that's reflected in mock drafts, and you have the illusion of players rising and falling. But in reality, teams have already set a value for that player. So he's not really rising or falling at all. Mock drafts just THINK he is. Now, if a player gets hurt in his pro day, yeah, that will affect his actual status. But those are the exceptions. Most of the time you hear people talking about a player "shooting up the draft board" or "plunging down the board?" Not really happening. It's all an illusion!

5. All that said, I feel like the first couple days of the draft are the most revealing time of the season for NFL teams because it's the one point where they really tip their hand about what they like about their roster and what they don't like. For 363 days, NFL coaches and executives tell you they love everybody on their team. For a couple days in April, they can't hide the truth any longer. That's when we truly learn what they are thinking.

6. I love a good train trestle.

7. My top 20 Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame omissions: 1. Todd Rundgren, 2. Warren Zevon, 3. The Monkees, 4. Dire Straits, 5. Kate Bush, 6. The B-52's, 7. Roxy Music, 8. Bon Jovi, 9. Cheap Trick, 10. The Replacements, 11. T. Rex, 12. Guided by Voices, 13. The Smiths, 14. Jethro Tull, 15. Television, 16. Three Dog Night, 17. The Cars, 18. Big Star, 19. Iron Maiden, 20. Gentle Giant.

8. Who do I want at No. 14? Let's say Gareon Conley, John Ross, Corey Davis, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Jabrill Peppers, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris and Reuben Foster are all on the board. That won't be the case, but let's say they are. What direction would you go? There's no right or wrong answer. You can make a good case for any of those guys. We know the Eagles are desperate for pass rush help. We know they desperately need corners and a running back. But for me, it's all about weapons for Carson Wentz, and there's no guarantee Alshon Jeffery or Torrey Smith will be here beyond this year. So a young, play-making wideout is at the top of my list. Someone Wentz can grow with for the next several years. It comes to whether you like Ross or Davis better. Ross is obviously faster, but Davis is a big, tough, strong, smart, physical kid who has pretty good speed of his own. If I were making the pick? I'm going with Davis.

9. What about cornerback? The class is so deep the Eagles should be able to get some help in the later rounds. There could be four or five corners taken in the first round, and since there are teams that don't need corners, it will push quality guys into the second, third and even fourth rounds. Remember, Eric Allen? Second round. Sheldon Brown? Second round. Bobby Taylor? Second round. The Eagles have five of the first 139 picks and I would be fine using two of them on corners.

10. Speaking of corner ... I haven't given up on the notion of Jalen Mills as a potential starter. I know he doesn't have world-class speed, but, man, I like the way he plays. He's tough, he's aggressive, he doesn't back down, he's got that LSU swagger. Yeah, he got beat deep too many times last year, but tell me a rookie cornerback who doesn't get beat. Every time he kept his head up and kept fighting. Mills battled some pretty darn good wide receivers last year and held his own much of the time. Is he best-suited to be a slot or a third corner? Maybe. But I want to at least give him a shot in training camp. I like his game, and I think he has a chance to be a player.

11. OK, if you're at a restaurant and you're on the phone, don't eat. And if you're eating, don't use the phone. M'kay?

12. It's amazing how many bad quarterbacks the Eagles have had in their history. Did you know only four QBs in Eagles history have won more than 20 games as a starter? Donovan (92), Jaws (69), Randall (63) and Norm Snead (28). And only six have won at least 10 games and have a winning record: McNabb (92-49-1), Jaws (69-67-1), Randall (63-43-1), Norm Van Brocklin (19-16-1), Nick Foles (15-9) and Rodney Peete (15-9). Only McNabb, Jaws and Tommy Thompson in the 1940s have won more than one playoff game. Carson Wentz needs 22 wins to become the fourth-winningest QB in franchise history. Which is sad.

13. If you wanted to, you could take local rail from Newark, Del., to New Haven, Conn. I have this all figured out. If you took a 6:22 a.m. SEPTA train from Newark you would get to Market East at 7:46 a.m. and connect to a Trenton train at 7:51 a.m., arriving in Trenton at 8:54 a.m. Then you would cross the platform and take the north-bound 9:21 a.m. New Jersey Transit train, arriving at Penn Station at 10:35 a.m. After a quick subway ride up to Grand Central via the 1-2-3 train and the S shuttle (or 7 train), you would jump on the 11:34 a.m. Metro North train, arriving in New Haven at 1:26 p.m. Voila, Newark to New Haven in only seven hours! Matter of fact, other than two segments -- New Haven to Providence and Perryville, Md., to Newark, Del. -- you could take local rail from Fredericksburg, Va., to Newburyport, Mass. If you really wanted to.

14. I remember sitting there in the media room in the basement of the Vet in April of 1988 thinking the Eagles really screwed up taking Keith Jackson with the 13th pick. Jackson had caught only 13 passes for 358 yards his senior year at Oklahoma and averaged just 16 catches for 390 yards in four years with the Sooners. He wasn't considered a good blocker and he never caught many passes. Jackson of course went on to earn first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in each of his first three seasons with the Eagles and averaged 61 catches for 689 yards and five TDs in his all-too-brief four-year stint with the Eagles.  

15. Two years later, the Eagles drafted Illinois wide receiver Mike Bellamy in the second round, and I was convinced he was the next Mike Quick. He was smooth, polished, productive. And never caught a pass as an Eagle. I think Jackson and Bellamy are the two Eagles draft picks over the years I was most wrong about.

16. The point being we all have our opinions on the draft, but you really don't know for a year or two what kind of draft a team really had. Consider the Eagles' 1986 draft. Nobody knew at the time, but the Eagles drafted two of the best players in franchise history 25 picks apart in rounds that don't even exist anymore -- Seth Joyner in the eighth round and Clyde Simmons in the ninth round. Joyner was released on final cuts and returned home to Pearl River, N.Y., before rejoining the Eagles. He didn't become a star until his third year. Simmons didn't have his first double-digit sack season until his fourth year. But Joyner went on to become the only player in NFL history with 50 sacks and 25 interceptions, and Simmons ranked 10th in NFL history with 121 sacks at the point he retired after the 1999 season (behind eight Hall of Famers and Leslie O'Neal). That was one of the greatest drafts in Eagles history. But nobody knew it for years.

17. Sometimes I feel like people are underestimating the Eagles' defense. Let's not forget they ranked 12th in the NFL last year, held quarterbacks to the fifth-lowest completion percentage in the NFL, allowed the fifth-fewest first downs, allowed the eighth-fewest touchdowns and ranked third in the red zone. All this under a first-year defensive coordinator and rookie head coach. Now, they also ranked last in the NFL allowing big plays. Which is why they're focusing on corner and pass rush. But they have tools to work with. It's not a total rebuild at all. They underachieved up front last year, but they're still solid on the defensive line, linebacker and safety. If they figure cornerback out, there's absolutely no reason this can't be a top-10 defense in 2017.

18. I don't get why the Google maps app on my phone always tries to direct me to a random place on the other side of the world when I ask for directions. If I just type "drug store," it will try to send me to a drug store in Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, India. If I type "gas station," it will try to send me to a gas station in Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya, Australia. Dude. I'm in Philly. I've also learned that screaming at my cell phone doesn't help.

19. Crazy that 18 of the Eagles' last 24 first-round picks have been linemen. That goes back to 1991! The only players they've taken in the first round the last 26 years are quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz; wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Freddie Mitchell and Nelson Agholor; and cornerback Lito Sheppard. If the Eagles take a non-lineman this year at No. 14, it'll be the first time since 1982 through 1984 they haven't taken a lineman in the first round for three straight years. They drafted Mike Quick, Michael Haddix and Kenny Jackson in the first round those years.

20. All of which means Lito is the only defensive player who wasn't a lineman the Eagles have drafted in the first round since Ben Smith in 1990!

21. Is there something seriously wrong with me if I pump my fist a few times and scream, "AWWW YEAH," after a particularly good parallel parking job?

22. Best live local band from Philly is Sheer Mag.

23. It's not "sampling." It's stealing.

24. I'll be surprised if Wentz doesn't throw at least five more touchdowns and five fewer interceptions in 2017 than he did in 2016 (16 TDs, 14 INTs). How does 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions sound?

25. I was in a restaurant the other day and they had pro bowling on the big-screen TV. Turns out it was a big match between the New York Kingpins and the Philadelphia Hitmen. Did you know we have a pro bowling team? Go Hitmen?