SI Vault
 
Cholly, They'll Never Call You a Hayseed in This Town Again
MARK BECHTEL
June 22, 2009
Bringing a World Series trophy to a title-starved city can do that for a guy, but Charlie Manuel—national hero in Japan, hitting savant, friend to the Amish, Ted Williams and pretty much everyone in between—was a worldly man long before you ever knew
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 22, 2009

Cholly, They'll Never Call You A Hayseed In This Town Again

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6

They were an odd-looking pair: the guy working the grill in standard-issue barbecue togs—Bermudas and a shirt—and his guest, an Amish man in traditional Amish garb. Manuel met Marty Kuhns and his family in 2000, by which time he had become the manager of the Cleveland Indians. Charlie and Missy were visiting the Amish country in Charm, Ohio, 90 miles south of Cleveland during the All-Star break. They quickly realized from the steady buggy traffic outside their cottage that the Amish were serious about the Tribe.

Marty and his wife, Suzy, arranged for Missy's daughters to go horseback riding, and the families became fast friends. When the Kuhnses visited Florida with another Amish couple that fall, Charlie and Missy had them over to their winter house for a cookout. It wasn't the kind of thing you saw every day in Winter Haven backyards: the visiting men in black hats and beards, the women in black dresses and pinafores. But to Manuel it was just like any other cookout. "They can eat," says Manuel of what he learned from his guests. "Hot dogs, Italian sausage.... They really can eat."

Manuel was already a celebrity in northern Ohio when Hart, who was then Cleveland's G.M., made good on his promise and hired Manuel as the Indians' manager following the 1999 season. He fired Mike Hargrove, a close friend, so he could install Manuel, who since '94 had been in his second stint as the Tribe's hitting coach. Immediately it seemed as though someone was trying to tell Hart he'd made a mistake.

Manuel had already suffered three heart attacks, the first in 1991, the last in '98, the same year Missy was found to have breast cancer. "Ninety-eight was pretty bad," says Missy. "Two thousand was like, Oh, my gosh, not something else." Manuel was like a patient on House; just when everything seemed fixed, another malady would pop up. In February 2000 he had surgery for diverticulitis, during which doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in one of his kidneys. Manuel's major league managerial debut was far from the way he'd imagined it: Under his baggy jersey was a colostomy bag. That didn't stop him from getting ejected from two of his first three games. (He later threw BP while wearing the bag, which was finally removed that May.)

The medical misfortune continued the next year: colon surgery in August to remove scar tissue, which led to a gall bladder infection. On a trip to Seattle, Manuel was vomiting so violently in the clubhouse that he was taken to the emergency room. When the Indians clinched the division, Manuel was in a hospital bed in Cleveland.

Hart left the Indians following the 2001 season, and with the team in a rebuilding mode, his replacement, Mark Shapiro, wanted his own man. Manuel was fired in July '02. He resurfaced in Philly, first as a special assistant to the general manager in '03, then as the team's manager two years later. That appointment was met with bemusement in Philly, where the phrase "turnip truck" was bandied about liberally by the city's fans. It was quite a story: Ol' Cholly in the toughest sports town in America. They were going to eat him up.

"That's what we always laugh about," says Missy. "It's not any tougher [in Philadelphia] than how he grew up."

They were an odd-looking pair: the tall, lanky kid and his undersized best friend. Mutt and Jeff, they called them at Parry McCluer High in Buena Vista, Va. The taller one also went by Fook, a truncated version of his middle name: Charles Fuqua Manuel Jr. The shorter one was Dickie Lewis. The two did everything together in their hometown, which lies two hours west of Richmond. Buena Vista is a blue-collar mining and factory town in the middle of Scots-Irish country, and like most such places, it's populated by people who work too hard to give a damn about sparing others' feelings. Philadelphians are known for booing Santa Claus; Kringle would probably get much worse were he to incur the wrath of Buena Vistans.

"Buena Vista"— the locals pronounce it bee-YOO-na vista—"is the kind of community that will tell you where to go in about 30 seconds," says Charlie Kurtz, who coached Manuel in baseball and football at Parry McCluer. "If you were behind, there would be a queue of people to tell you that you were the dumbest sonofabitch that ever coached a football game. They let you have it right then and there."

Manuel didn't care too much about football. He was an end, Lewis a halfback. "I ran the ball around his end one time, and the guy came in there and just creamed me," says Lewis. "Charlie looked back and said, 'If I'd have known that was you back there, I'd have blocked for you.'"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6