Charlie Manuel Deserved A Better Ending


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.


Charlie Manuel won more games — 780 — than any manager in franchise history. And he was the manager as Philadelphia went from a place players couldn't wait to leave to a place where Cy Young winners were itching to come to and all-stars want to play out their careers.

And he got repaid for all of that by being canned by the man who is responsible for putting together the aging, putrid roster the Phillies currently have. If anyone deserved to go, it was Ruben Amaro, not Charlie.

Now, I'm not saying everything was roses with Manuel. When he first got here, many people — myself included — questioned his managerial decisions. He didn't like to use players outside of their roles, was almost loyal to a fault, seemed to just write a lineup card and that was that.

But he also always had his players play for him. Always. Track down any player who played for Charlie Manuel, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone say a bad word about him. Quite the contrary — his players loved him. Whether it was Jayson Werth, who quite literally owes his success to Manuel, Jim Thome, who says he wouldn't be a potential Hall of Famer without Manuel, or even Jimmy Rollins, the star and mainstay that Manuel benched more than once for not hustling, they all rave about Manuel the man and Manuel the manager. Every last one of them.

In a sport like baseball, that means something. And a guy who garners that much respect, a man who steered a renaissance of baseball in Philadelphia, a man who had more success than any other manger in the long history of the Phillies — that guy deserves to go out with dignity and respect.

It was clear that Manuel was not going to manage the Phillies beyond this season. His contract was up once the last game concluded, and Ryne Sandberg was waiting in the wings. With the Phillies in a transitional phase on the field, everyone saw the handwriting on the wall, Manuel included. But he wanted to continue to manage this team and play out his contract. He wanted to see it through to the end. Instead, he's watching these last 42 games the same way we fans are, and that just seems wrong.

Amaro said he wanted to give Sandberg the opportunity to show what kind of manager he can be at the big league level, which is so incredibly stupid. What can the organization really gather in 42 games with a fledgling team and a roster full of aging stars and minor league talent? Very little, if anything at all.

If there was a time to fire Manuel, it was after the Phillies, .500 at the All-Star break, came out flat in the second half, losing eight of their first nine games, all of eight of them in a row. Then it might matter. Maybe it could have woken up a team that had been hot heading into the break. Even then, it would have been wishful thinking, but it would have at least had some rationale. But now, with the season lost and the roster in shambles? It made no sense, not when Manuel wanted to stay and had done more for this franchise than anyone currently in the front office.

Charlie Manuel may not be the best tactical manager in baseball. Hell, he may not have been the best tactical manager in franchise history. But he was the most successful, the winningest, the one guy who understood his players, understood his city, understood his fans.

Charlie Manuel did as much or more for baseball in Philadelphia as anyone else, and he deserved better, whether Ruben Amaro Jr. agrees or not.

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