One week ago today, Charlie Manuel managed his 1,416th regular-season game as the skipper of the Philadelphia Phillies. It was an unremarkable game in an unremarkable season, losing 6-3 to the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. It was also Charlie Manuel’s last game as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Just two days prior, Manuel won his 1,000th game as a Major League manager, and he was set to be honored when the Phillies returned home to Citizens Bank Park Friday. Instead, it turned out to be his last victory in red pinstripes, as Manuel was unceremoniously fired by Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on the same day he was supposed to be honored. And Charlie put to rest any ideas that this was either his decision or a mutual decision:
“I never quit quite nothing and I did not resign,” he said.
Now on the surface, the firing of a manager who saw a team go from a franchise-high 102 wins in 2011 to .500 in 2012 to 53-67 through 120 games this season is not surprising, unexpected or even really all that newsworthy. On the surface.
But when you dig a little deeper — and you don’t need to dig very far — this was a slap in the face to the most successful manager in the franchise’s history.
When Charlie Manuel took over as Philadelphia’s manager in 2005, following the act of Larry Bowa — a fan favorite during his playing days and the shortstop of the lone Phillies team to win a World Series prior to Manuel’s arrival — the Phillies had not been to the playoffs in a dozen years. They had just three winning seasons since the 1993 team that won the NL pennant, and the Phillies were known more as the losing-est franchise in North American sports than anything else.
Charlie Manuel changed all that. In his very first season, he steered the Phillies to an 88-win season, the most wins the franchise had seen since ’93. The following year, he again headed a team with a winning record … and it was just the beginning.
From 2007-2011, the Phillies’ record improved every single season. In 2007, the Phillies came back from seven games behind the New York Mets with 17 games to go, winning the National League East on their 89th victory of the regular season, in game 162. It was the first time the Phillies had made the postseason in 14 years, and you could see the unbridled joy in then-closer Brett Myers’ face. The homegrown talent — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, et al — had finally turned the losing-est franchise into division champs.
The next season, the Phils did it again, catching the Mets late in the year, winning their second straight division title, surpassing 90 wins … and riding that momentum all the way to only the second World Series championship in franchise history. It was the most agonizing and ultimately joyful season of baseball of my entire life, and Charlie Manuel understood just what that title meant. It wasn’t for him. It wasn’t even for his team. It was for Philadelphia.
And while the Phillies would never win another World Series with Manuel at the helm, they went to one more, continued to improve in the regular season — 93, 97 and a franchise-record 102 wins, respectively — losing each postseason to the eventual World Series champions (Yankees in ’09, Giants in ’10 and Cardinals in ’11). He steered the Phillies to five straight NL East titles, unprecedented success for a team that always seemed to be looking up at the Braves.