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Cholly, They'll Never Call You a Hayseed in This Town Again
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
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June 22, 2009

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

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Basketball and baseball, those were Manuel's true loves. If he couldn't find anyone to play with him, he'd hit rocks with a board by himself on a field he lined with lime taken from the mine where his grandfather worked. Or he'd shoot hoops on the basket outside the church, calling the action—"Fook in for two!"—to the dismay of the preacher, who on at least one occasion was conducting a funeral in the church with the windows open.

The preacher also happened to be Manuel's father, Charles Sr. Preacher Manuel, as he was known, was, in the words of his son, "a fire-and-brimstone kind of guy," a Pentecostal Holiness minister who, before settling in Buena Vista, traveled around with a revival tent, opening churches in Virginia and West Virginia. He was well-respected as a minister, but he wasn't without his own demons. In April 1963, shortly before Charlie graduated from high school, Preacher Manuel connected a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car and killed himself. He left a note for Charlie, telling him to take care of his mother, June, and his 10 siblings.

Charlie already had a family of his own to support. He had a wife and son and was working the graveyard shift, before school and baseball practice, at a lumber mill. (Manuel has been divorced twice.) Any thoughts he entertained about going to college on a basketball scholarship were gone. When the Twins offered him a $20,000 bonus that summer, he took it and gave a chunk to his mother, who was living on $117 a month from her husband's veteran's pension. A couple of months after he buried his father—he made it to his high school baseball game following the ceremony and hit the longest homer Kurtz ever saw him hit—he was in Wytheville, Va., playing for the Twins' rookie league team, his first step on the long road to Philadelphia.

They were an odd-looking pair: the Phillies' manager and, well, just about every individual who came near him. It was a Thursday morning in January, a preseason meet and greet with a group of the team's season-ticket holders, and there was a role reversal going on. The businessmen, the guys who should have been at work in pressed shirts and ties, were wearing Phillies jerseys, and Manuel, a man with a body made for double knit, was in a sharp navy pinstripe suit. Somehow he had accidentally tucked the coat into his pants, but no one seemed to mind. He still looked dapper, and he had, three months earlier, delivered to the city its second World Series title in 125 years of baseball.

Some days during the championship season Manuel had applied a gentle touch. On Aug. 28 Philadelphia was a half game behind the Mets and had a 4--1 lead on the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Manuel brought in setup man Ryan Madson to pitch the eighth inning, and the 28-year-old righty gave up three runs without retiring a batter in a 6--4 loss. Afterward Manuel summoned Madson into his office. "I thought, Oh, man," says Madson. But instead of getting ripped, he got this: "Sometimes those Louisville Sluggers are going to talk to you a little bit," Manuel said with a chuckle. And that was it. From that point until the end of the season, Madson had an 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his ERA was 0.63.

Other days, Ol' Cholly got the ass. When reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins didn't run out a pop-up in June, Manuel benched him. When Rollins showed up late to Shea Stadium for a key July game with the Mets, he was benched again. The message got through; J-Roll was a model citizen down the stretch as the Phillies made their run to the playoffs.

In the press conference after Philadelphia had beaten the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 to wrap up the World Series, a Japanese reporter asked Manuel to discuss the contributions of seldom-used outfielder So Taguchi. It was the type of question that makes deadline reporters blanch; there's only time for so many questions, and no one wants to see one wasted on the 25th man on a 25-man roster. Still, Manuel launched into a typically rambling answer, one that for a few minutes sounded as if it might have been in response to a completely different question.

In the end, though, the answer was quintessentially Manuelesque. Not just because it rambled but because of what it revealed about the speaker. The way he could spin a yarn that would entertain but eventually come around and make a point. The way he knows just what to say to his players. His self-deprecation. His affinity for Japan. The underlying sweetness of it all.

"You know," Manuel said, "when I was a player and I was telling somebody—I tell stories all the time, and I was telling somebody the other day about Billy Martin, like I remember one time I got in an argument with him because against a lefthand pitcher he sat Tony Oliva and Rod Carew. Rod Carew was leading the league in hitting. Tony Oliva was one of the game's best hitters. It came time to pinch-hit like in the eighth or ninth inning, the only time I ever hit was when we were losing the game. He put me up to hit, and I struck out. I came back, and he said something to me, and I looked at him and I said, 'What the hell are you hitting me for, you got Oliva and Carew sitting here.' He said, 'I know you can pull the ball. I know you would get the runner over. That's why I sent you up there, and that's your job.'

"And I thought to myself, Well, he's got a lot of faith in me. He's got a lot of confidence in me. Taguchi, if you notice, he was on our team the whole year. He didn't get to play a whole lot, but I always looked at him as someone who knew how to play. He can handle a bat, he can make contact in the game. Like when I sent him up there, he didn't strike out much. He can run the bases and steal a base now and then. And the things he could do fit for the National League. Like on our team with the outfielders we had and the ones that we played, it was hard for him to get playing time.

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