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If Charlie Manuel chooses to manage the Phillies "by the book," that book should be Gray's Anatomy. Since 1989 the new Philadelphia manager has had a heart attack, quadruple-bypass surgery, diverticulitis and an operation to remove a cancerous kidney, which means he has been carved every which way even before Phillies fans, who favored Jim Leyland for the job, get a crack at him. Manuel is a survivor in the literal sense. In 2000 he managed the Indians for three months with a colostomy bag tucked under his jacket--"I was always worried if I had to argue with an ump, I might embarrass myself," says the 61-year-old Manuel--so handling the National League's most maddening team should be a snap.
Last season Philadelphia was favored to unseat Atlanta at the top of the NL East but turned in yet another disappointing season; nothing new for a 122-year-old franchise that has won only one World Series. Instead of panicking (or spending appreciably more money), general manager Ed Wade granted a do-over to essentially the same team that finished 10 games behind the Braves. There are a few changes--notably righthanded starter Jon Lieber and new centerfielder Kenny Lofton--but the most drastic difference is the man who fills out the lineup card.
After four tension-filled seasons, Larry Bowa was finally fired as manager and replaced by Manuel, who had been a club adviser. Says closer Billy Wagner, "Charlie's going to allow us to play the game without feeling that we can't make mistakes. He's not going to stab us in the back." Manuel's principal managerial asset is a wellspring of patience, which he attributes to playing six seasons in Japan and to his health problems. "Japanese baseball helped me understand there are other people in the world besides me," Manuel says. "Then I got sick, and that opens your eyes. I can still get angry at players, but I listen more."
During spring training Manuel insisted on two things: punctuality and eye contact when players speak with him. The team's players, who didn't see eye to eye with their last manager, now have no choice.
Of course the Phillies would score a ton if Charlie the Tuna were in the dugout. Last season Philadelphia finished third in the league in runs while playing in Citizens Bank Park--Coors Lite, one of the friendliest hitter's parks east of Denver--but it still left a lot of runners on base. A formidable .345 on-base percentage was undermined by a dearth of clutch hitting; the Phillies batted only .257 with runners in scoring position and stranded the second most runners in the league. With the still quick but shopworn Lofton, 37, hitting behind the league's most complete shortstop, Jimmy Rollins (he made only nine errors and was the lone National Leaguer with double-digit doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in 2004), the top of the order should continue to produce. The big question: Will 28-year-old leftfielder Pat Burrell, whose season turned for the worst last June when he insisted on turning on every pitch instead of occasionally going to the opposite field, do the same? Burrell eschewed surgery on his strained left wrist last August and returned to knock in 16 runs in September. If he regains the stroke that made him an MVP-in-waiting in 2002, he will be just what the doctors ordered.
Injuries decimated the pitching staff last season--three starters and Wagner missed significant time--and a red flag was raised early in the spring when righthander Vicente Padilla, whose stuff is as knee-buckling as an all-night tequila session, was shut down with the triceps tendinitis that cost him 14 starts in '04.
But if Lieber puts up big numbers in his second full season since Tommy John surgery and lefthander Randy Wolf returns strong from elbow tendinitis, maybe so will the fans. By March 22 the Phillies had sold 17,500 season tickets, down 5,500 from the first year in their splendid stadium. Manuel's arrival might mean the death of clubhouse cynicism, but only a playoff appearance will soothe a city that had expectations raised before last season. In a division with the Braves, Marlins and Mets, the Phillies' chance of playing October baseball is middling. Sorry, Charlie. --M.F.
Last season a club-record nine Phillies hit 10 or more home runs, led by Jim Thome's 42. All nine hitters are back with the team in 2005.