How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

If there's anyone in the world I could sit next to for hours and listen to talk about baseball it would be former Phillies manager and World Champion of baseball Charlie Manuel.

Charlie is still very involved in the Phillies organization to this day and we're lucky enough to have 45 minutes of his time talking ball with longtime Phillies scribe Jim Salisbury.

Those two know the Phillies just about as well as anybody, so there's plenty of meat on the bone to chew on. The duo chatted for a recent episode of Sully's "At The Yard" podcast.

The story that caught my ear the most was Charlie's telling of how Jim Thome came to have that somewhat-goofy stance before he hits. It was a timing mechanism that Manuel stumbled upon in the strangest of ways.

This was when both Charlie and Jim were working for a Cleveland Indians' affiliate in the minors. 

"We were playing in Scranton and it was a Phillies triple-A team at the time. I kept thinking of a timing mechanism of some kind, a waggle or something, what Thome could do with his bat where he wouldn't tense up, where it would help him to relax and everything."

"I came into our locker room early," Manuel said. "I didn't let my players turn the TV on after a certain time. I came through the clubhouse that day, they had 'The Natural' on. I told 'em to turn it off. Some of the players said, 'Hey, Charlie, we're watching The Natural can we watch the end of The Natural? I said, 'Not really, what's the rule?'

"I saw Robert Redford standing there pointing the bat with one hand, bringing it back. I looked over at Thome, I said, 'you can finish watching the movie. From now on that's going to be your load.' I took him down in the cage and worked with him. The game started and the Phillies had a left-handed pitcher named [Kyle] Abbott. He was pitching that day. I told Jimmy, 'From now on that's your stance.' He gets up there the first time up, Abbott throws him a breaking ball away and he hit a home run to left center... I mean a longways. He come up the next time he hit another one to right center. I think he had three hits that day."

"That's a true story," Manuel added.

It sounds to good to be true. So we did a little research and Thome has told the same tale on a television special out in Chicago last summer.

"We were in Scranton and I was a guy who held the bat still and would go from a standstill and swing," Thome explained. "(Charlie) was watching The Natural and he saw that (Hobbs) kind of had this little wiggle to his stance, and I remember the day. We went out the next day, we worked early and he said 'Do me a favor and try holding the bat out there (pointing towards the pitcher) and get a little rhythm with your swing.' And from that day I never looked back. The following day we played a doubleheader and I hit two home runs."

You can listen to the whole podcast with Jim Salisbury and Charlie Manuel right here.

Go to Wegmans and you just might find Charlie Manuel

Go to Wegmans and you just might find Charlie Manuel

So what is Charlie Manuel doing nowadays?

You just might find him strolling around Center City or shopping at your local Wegmans.

In the latest episode of CSN Philly's At The Yard podcast with our Jim Salisbury, the former Phils skipper joined the show to talk about what he's been up to since retiring from baseball in 2013. The 2008 World Series champion manager is currently a senior advisor for the team, spending part of his time on the road scouting for the Phillies.

Still, one of his favorite things is getting to meet fans who seemingly always "want to touch him" and thank him for bringing the City of Brotherly Love its only title in the last 34 years.

"This lady is on the other side of the store and Wegmans is a big store," Manuel said. "She hollers out loud to me and she goes, 'CHARLIE! Ryan [Howard's] pulling off the ball!' I holler back to her and I said, 'Lady, he's pulling off in BP!!'"

"The people come up and talk to me just like I was a friend — like I was their sister or brother or something — it was unreal. Just name somewhere I'd go, Atlantic City, people would want to come up and talk to me and they'd laugh."

Manuel also talked at length about coaching Jim Thome, benching Jimmy Rollins and a number of other stories from his coaching days.

To listen to the entire podcast, click below.

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- An impromptu homage to Dallas Green broke out on the field at the Phillies' spring training home Thursday morning.

Larry Bowa, who played for Green on the 1980 World Series championship team, was there.

So was Charlie Manuel, the only other manager other than Green to lead a Phillies team to a World Series title.

They told tales of Green's tough exterior and warm heart.

Bowa even shed a tear.

A couple of hours later, there were a few more tears in the stands as the team honored Green with a moment of silence the day after he died at 82.

Green's old jersey, No. 46, hung in the dugout for the Phillies-Twins game.

"It was tough last night," Bowa said. "I just couldn't believe it. This guy meant the world to us. We don't win a World Series without Dallas. It doesn't matter if we've got 10 Pete Roses, we don't win a World Series without Dallas. 

"He taught me a lot about being mentally tough and giving everything you have, every pitch, nine innings. Never quit. He was a guy that told our team, 'Look in the mirror. You're not as good as you think you are.' He said, 'Anybody can win divisions, go win a World Series. Put a ring on somebody's finger.'"

The Phillies had great talent in the late 1970s but always came one step short of the World Series. Green came in late in the 1979 season and was a stun gun to a complacent team. A year later, they were World Series champions.

"He said, 'I don't care what you did yesterday. What can you do today to help the Phillies win?' He got everybody's attention," Bowa said. "Yeah, we had a lot of give and take, screaming. I think everybody respected him. That's the bottom line. Eventually, when you get done playing, you realize how important he was to the Phillies in 1980."

Bowa was a critic of Green's in the lead up to the World Series. He recalled the give and take with the manager, which wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice.

After one particularly poor game, Green left his office door open as he spoke with reporters. During the interview session, Green loudly questioned the team's desire and said the group was not as good as it thought it was. The players in the clubhouse heard it all because Green wanted them to -- and, of course, because his voice naturally boomed.

After Green's session with the media that night, a reporter approached Bowa and asked if he'd heard Green's loud commentary.

Of course, Bowa had heard it.

And he was fired up.

"Go ask Dallas how many games he won in the big leagues," Bowa told the writer, poking at Green's modest 20-22 record as a big-league pitcher.

When the writer informed Green of Bowa's barb, Green responded with a loud, "Touche, Bo. Touche."

"He wanted you to hear things," Bowa said.

That was one of his ways of challenging people. And he really liked to challenge players. It was his way of inspiring and separating the weak from the strong.

Manuel compared that to one of his former managers, Billy Martin.

"He was like a Billy Martin kind of guy," Manuel said. "He'll tell you what he expects out of you, but at the same time, he'll tell you that you can't do something. That's a big challenge to you. When you show him that you can do it, that's when he's on your side and he thinks the world of you. That's the time you become his guy."

Manuel became Green's guy after the two had a public spat in 2006. In a radio interview, Green, then a member of the team's front office, had criticized the way Manuel's Phillies were playing. In particular, he said the team lacked fundamentals. Manuel was furious that a member of the front office would criticize him publicly. A month or so later, as the Phillies rallied themselves into wild-card contention, Manuel and Green came face to face on the field before a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Manuel unloaded on Green.

And Green took his medicine.

From that confrontation, respect and understanding grew. Manuel and Green became great friends and frequent dinner partners. A few years later, Green admitted to a reporter that he was wrong for scuffing Manuel and he thanked Manuel for showing him that there are other ways to run a team than just the way he did it.

"I showed him," Manuel said. "When I look back, maybe he was testing me. But I understood him and I think at the end he felt he understood me."

On the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Manuel and Green, members of an elite, two-man club, sat in Manuel's office and reflected.

"He was very happy," Manuel said. "Him and I had a few drinks of VO. I think I outdrank him, really. But, of course, when he won back in 1980 he would have outdrank me.

"Everything about it was good. He was just as happy as I was and I can't tell you how happy I was.

"He was always around and he definitely pulled for the Phillies day in and day out.

"Baseball's going to miss Dallas Green.

"I'm going to miss him."