Don't underestimate Manuel's impact on Phillies
Entering final year of contract, manager has earned right to have say in fate
They're saying this might be Charlie Manuel's last roundup. The Phillies haven't extended his contract beyond this season, and they've even promoted his likely successor, Ryne Sandberg, to the big league staff. If the Phils don't have a great summer, Manuel could be moved aside. Let's hope that doesn't happen. And if it does happen, let's hope it's Manuel's call. After leading Philadelphia to five straight division championships and two National League pennants and the 2008 World Series title, Manuel ought to be allowed to write his own ending.
Baseball will be worse off the moment Manuel walks out the door. He has made the game better these last 50 years as a player, a coach and as manager of the Indians for three years and the Phillies for nine.
Manuel is one of those special men you get to know only if you're really lucky. When baseball people talk about him, they begin with his decency and honesty. They say he's pretty darn good at running a baseball team, too.
It was impressive this Spring Training to watch players, coaches and managers pour out of the other dugout to greet Manuel before games. These were guys who'd played for Manuel or worked for Manuel, or simply guys who'd met Manuel along the way.
He draws people to him that way. When Manuel spends 10 minutes with you, they're likely to be the best 10 minutes of your day. But the thing about Manuel -- and maybe this is the real key to his success -- is that he'll convince you they're the best 10 minutes of his day, too.
Phillies fans weren't thrilled when Ed Wade hired him in 2005. After all, Manuel has a deep West Virginia accent, and his words are less polished than from the heart. Some in Philadelphia apparently thought Manuel wasn't all that bright.
Through the years, the doubters found out otherwise. Even some of the toughest fans in sports have -- like a lot of us -- fallen in love with Manuel. They've found that Manuel is really brilliant with people and that he knows the game inside and out. They've come to understand that the Phils are in good hands with him in the dugout.
Manuel's genius lies in two things. First, he knows people. He especially knows baseball players. He knows what they want from a manager; that is, honesty, consistency and competence. They want to know that Manuel has their back.
Plenty of managers have lost a clubhouse by telling their players one thing and then whispering something else to the local reporters. With Manuel, what you see is what you get.
More than maybe at any time in baseball history, this gift may be the most important factor in succeeding as a manager. I have no idea if Manuel is great with the X's and O's of the game. There are few people in baseball who understand the intricacies of hitting better than Manuel.
Still, he delegates some stuff to his coaches, especially his pitching coach, Rich Dubee. That's another of Manuel's strengths. He gives his coaches the freedom to do their jobs.
Manuel sees the big picture. Fans and reporters sometimes judge managers by their lineups and whether they sent this player instead of that player up to pinch-hit in the eighth inning, or whether their late bullpen moves worked out. Any manager has stacks of scouting reports and computerized data to help with that stuff.
No computer can substitute for a human touch, and that's Manuel's gift. To manage in an era when players make three, four and five times as much as the manager has changed the dynamics of the relationship.
Managers can't be dictators the way they once were. Instead, they have to explain what they're doing and why. They have to get players to buy in and put the team first and trust the manager.
In the end, that's probably the thing that separates good managers from the others. If a team plays hard and with purpose and if a team competes, then that tells you the manager has gotten his players to believe.
These Phillies are the blueprint for this kind of thing. Ask any opposing player or anyone who has watched them during this run, and that's one of the things they'll bring up first.
The Phils take every game seriously. They bring their best to the park almost every single day, and when they don't, they hear about it from Manuel. Manuel is a player's manager, but he's not to be crossed. That's another thing his players know about him.
Manuel would be the first to tell you he has had the right kind of players. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley would play hard regardless of who filled out the lineup card. But Manuel deserves plenty of credit, too. He has helped create the environment. There's that trust factor, too. Manuel's players know his only agenda is winning. Every decision is based on that.
In short, it has been a perfect marriage. The Phillies are an older team, and there's just no way of knowing how much great baseball Utley, Rollins, Roy Halladay and the others have in them.
They've played at such a high level for so long and represented the game the right way that it would be great fun to see them put together another nice run. It would also be great to see Manuel on top again. We may not see another like him.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.