The Phillies were expected to contend in the NL East when the 2013 season began. However, the team has completely fallen apart since the All-Star break.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took action on Friday afternoon, announcing that manager Charlie Manuel was relieved of his duties and that Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg will serve as Manuel’s replacement effective Friday night (see story).
Perhaps this is the wake-up call the Phils need to snap out of their current funk.
“I sure hope so,” second baseman Chase Utley said prior to Friday’s matchup with the Dodgers. “It obviously shows that we are not playing good baseball.
“We all know we haven’t been playing great. We’ve had some stretches. We’ve played OK, but lately we haven’t been getting the job done. Whatever it takes to get us to focus more.”
Utley first played for Manuel in the 2004 season, when Manuel was hired as the club’s 51st manager. Utley was 23 then, playing behind Placido Polanco at second base.
Utley would go on to take over full-time duties at second in June 2005, when Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He then established himself as one of the best-hitting second basemen in the National League, and he credits Manuel for that.
“Charlie is the man that gave me an opportunity to play,” Utley said. “I owe a lot to Charlie Manuel. … I think we are all a little upset and a little sad. It’s not a usual thing to see that guy you played for not behind the batting cage watching batting practice.”
Manuel, the winningest manager in team history, won 780 games with the Phillies and led the team to the 2008 World Series title.
Cole Hamels, who was the 2008 World Series MVP, said Manuel served as a father figure to all of his players.
“All of us grow up in a certain way,” Hamels said. “We leave home and we come from all different cities and I think Charlie was kind of like our father to a lot of us. He was a fatherly figure. He really enjoyed watching us have success.
“When we weren’t playing at our best, he always came around and encouraged us. He never had anything negative to say. He always wanted us to be the best we could.
“Knowing that and every good game I had, every bad game I had, he always came up to me no matter what and really told me ‘go get 'em and keep doing what you’re capable of doing.’ So that’s kind of what you want to hear sometimes -- not all the time -- but I’ll really take that and notch that away as a really good memory.”
Third baseman Michael Young, who is in his first season with the Phils, was disappointed his time with Manuel was cut short.
“It’s unfortunate any time someone you really enjoy playing for, enjoy being around, is no longer with you on a day-to-day basis,” Young said.
“For us as players, I know me personally, I loved playing for Charlie. I have a ton of respect for what he’s done in the game and for what he can bring to a baseball team. Going forward, I’m look forward to playing for Ryne now.”
Sandberg will take over a Phillies team that has gone 5-19 since the All-Star break. He spent the previous two seasons as manager of Triple A Leigh Valley before joining the Phils’ big club as third-base coach this past September.
Sandberg said Friday that the Phillies have shown signs of “lackadaisical play” as of late.
“I’m as guilty as everybody else is,” Hamels said. “We have to focus a lot more in what we have to do out on the field because we have to do it the right way. Charlie preached that but we just weren’t doing it. We’re as guilty as everybody. We have to be responsible for being out there and playing the game of baseball the Philly way and the way that we know how. We have to pull for each other to do so.”
When asked if the Phils’ poor play contributed to the firing of Manuel, Utley didn’t pull any punches.
“Charlie didn’t strike out,” Utley said. “Charlie didn’t make any errors. All Charlie did was come to the park everyday and ask us to win.”
So now Sandberg will have to find a way to reinvigorate the Phillies over the final 42 games of the season.
Replacing Manuel will be no easy task. Manuel helped the Phils to five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11 before the club took drastic steps back in 2012 and 2013.
“He (Charlie) said the game goes on, but that doesn’t make it any easier," Utley said.
Hamels feels the Phils let Manuel down and knows they have work to do moving forward with Sandberg at the helm.
“For a sense because of what he means to us and how he’s been around, yeah we let down not only him, but we let down the organization,” Hamels said. “We let down the fans, but ultimately we let each other down. That’s why we really have to get back up and discover who we are and what we are playing for and go out there and do it.”