In Charlie they trust
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel gets great respect from his players
Manuel has shown an ability to discipline key players when need be
PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe you've only seen Phillies manager Charlie Manuel on TV, in inaction and in vivid color. The bright white hair. The reddish cheeks and, after bad called third strikes, the reddish neck. The ample stomach leaning against the chicken-coop netting of the Phillies home dugout at cozy Citizens Bank Park, as he stands as close to his batter, his catcher and his on-deck hitter as any skipper not running a Little League team.
When the TV cameras pan the dugout and make a pit stop at Manuel, you can see his cap, grimy and loaded with good luck, sitting high on his head, Charlie Brown-style. There are times he looks just like another 64-year-old man in a windbreaker and double-knotted shoes, like some guy walking the boardwalk, and in High Def you might see a little coffee stain near the zipper. The man's not auditioning for a GQ spread. The man's not auditioning for anything.
When a TV mike is put in front of him, before, during and after a game, the words come drawling out of him, not Gomer Pyle but not too far off. He's from small-town Virginia by way of rural West Virginia, raised by a mother who had 10 other kids to chase after and somehow found time for each of them. June Manuel liked baseball, and when Charlie and his siblings buried her last week, at age 89, the manager slipped a Phillies cap into her casket. Charlie's late father, who died in '64 as Charlie was beginning his playing career as an oufielder, had no use for the game. He was a Holiness Church preacher who saw baseball as a waste of time. Well, Charlie's no preacher. When he speaks from his post-game pulpit, his words often come in no particular sequence and in no particular hurry. Nobody calls him slick.
So you watch a game or two or a series or two and you figure, "I know this guy."
But you don't.
All across the Phillies' oval clubhouse, you'll hear one player after another say the same thing: There's no manager I'd rather play for than Charlie Manuel. Players will tell you that what Manuel says in private, whether he's praising or criticizing or teaching, is so heartfelt and direct that his words can only help you. And more than anything you'll hear that Charlie Manuel has your back. As long as your purpose is to help the Phillies win baseball games, then the manager has your back.
And if, for a moment, you lose your way and you've put yourself ahead of the team, then Charlie Manuel will watch the team's back. (Jimmy Rollins, the shortstop, has found that out, and so has Brett Myers, who is scheduled to pitch Game 2 of the World Series.) The manager's approach could not be simpler or more direct or less calculating. His methods might not play in some cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Detroit come to mind -- where winning over the press with your cleverness is part of the mandate. But Manuel's I've-got-your-back, small-town method works just right for Philadelphia, the biggest small town you could ever spend a week touring, and its baseball team.
For many players, baseball becomes a business the day you're dealt from the organization that first signed you. But the nucleus of the '08 Philadelphia club (Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard, to name a quick foursome) is home-grown talent. Sure, they're playing for money. But for something more than that, too. Manuel taps right into that. It's true that Manuel, who came to the club as a hitting instructor from Cleveland along with imported slugging help (Jim Thome), is nothing like home grown. But he has adapted well, and cheesesteaks have nothing to do with it.
Manuel has learned not to do unto others as they would do unto you. People may judge him by his appearance or accent or the lack of fluency, but he makes sure he doesn't judge others that way. "I came to Philadelphia with a reputation," Jayson Werth, the Phillies rightfielder, said the other day. His reputation was for getting hurt often, for not being durable enough to be an everyday player, for being at best a platoon player. Manuel, Werth said, didn't care about his scouting report, or what he did in the past. He cared about what Werth did that day and what he thought Werth could do the next day. Because his eyes were open, he was willing to give Werth a chance to see if he could be an everyday player. "He had no preconceived notions," Werth said.
"When I was in the minors, I had managers and coaches where you felt they really don't want you to succeed and you'd find yourself playing hard to try to prove them wrong," Werth said. With Manuel, it's the exact opposite. "You play hard for him because you know he wants to see you succeed."
At the end of his playing career, Manuel was a power hitter in Japan, where he played in three Japanese World Series. Manuel says he wouldn't be a big-league manager today were it not for his stint in Japan. Japanese baseball is all about showing respect, for teammates, opponents and the game itself, and in that sense Japanese baseball is all over the two rules by which Manuel runs the Phillies:
1) Show up on time
That's it. So last year, when Rollins failed to hustle, he was shown the bench. This year, when the shortstop and leadoff hitter was late for a game, he was benched again. But in the ninth inning of that June game, against the New York Mets, Manuel sent Rollins up to bat. Not because he had caved, but because he had made his point, to Rollins and the rest of the team: Team comes first. And his decision to bat was made for the same reason: to put the team first.
"Listen, that's a gutsy move," Davey Lopes, the Phillies first base coach, said the other day. "I've seen that go both ways. You take on the star of the team and you can lose the player. But that's Charlie's stature. The players know he's a caring guy. Each guy on this club has a personal relationship with him. He's not going to say something through another person. He's going to do it himself."
Rollins has said that Manuel was right to bench him for his failure to hustle, but that the benching over the late arrival to the park, after missing the team bus and getting caught in traffic, was excessive. But he never questioned Manuel's authority over him or the fact that Manuel had nothing but the team's best interests at heart. He has no other agenda. How refreshing.
When June Manuel died on Oct. 10, you heard one player after another say they wanted to win for the manager. You hear that sort of thing in high school football, but not so often in major league baseball, but that's what the players were saying. Skipper lost his mother; give it a little something extra. June followed her son's team closely. She liked Rollins, Utley, Howard -- "anybody who had a good day," Manuel said the other day. Good humor is often simple and often rooted in something true.
Earlier in the season, Werth was enduring a mini-slump. He was in the on-deck circle awaiting his third at-bat after lousy swings in his first two times up. His manager was talking to him as he stood in the circle. "You do it like that, you do it like that, you do it like that," Manuel said, showing a blunt, short, downward hitting stroke to his rightfielder. OK, Werth said, show faith. He did it like that. Strike 1. He did it like that. Strike 2. He did it like that. And out it went.
When Werth came in from his trip around the bases, his manager was right there, just like always, in good times and in bad.