When manager Charlie Manuel was fired last week it officially ended the most successful era of Phillies baseball in history. And just about everybody has had something nice to say about nice-guy Manuel, including one young sportswriter who called him “the best manager in Phillies history.’’
Of course, that young man never really saw Gene Mauch or Dallas Green or Pat Corrales or Jim Fregosi or even Danny Ozark. And even though you could certainly make a case that Manuel is the most successful manager in Phillies history, that doesn’t necessarily make him the best.
In fact, we look at it differently. As far as we’re concerned, Charlie Manuel is the most underachieving manager in Phillies history because, despite all the games his team won and all the playoff appearances they made, this is a team that should have done much, much more than it did.
Sure, they won a World Series, two National League pennants and five straight NL East titles, which is pretty impressive. But reflect on what Manuel had to work with over his career with the Phillies. Consider the talent he had at his disposal. When you do that you realize that his teams should have accomplished much more than they did and part of that has to fall on the manager.
First, we need to point out that we don’t make fun of Manuel because of the stumblin’, fumblin’ way he talks. He’s an intelligent, well-read and, in his own way, articulate man. And we also readily acknowledge that he’s forgotten more baseball than we’ll ever know. But, again, look at the tools he had in his toolbox over the years and you have to wonder why this team only won one World Series.
For starters, Manuel got to manage an All-Star at every infield and outfield position, including three players who are generally considered to be the best at their positions in team history – first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
And it wasn’t just on offense that Manuel’s teams were loaded with great players. His starting pitching staff has had two Cy Young Award winners (Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay) and a World Series MVP (Cole Hamels) and at one time his staff wasn’t just being called one of the best in the league, but one of the best in baseball history. Plus he’s had two All-Star closers in his bullpen (Brad Lidge and Jonathan Papelbon) and one of them, Lidge, was perfect in save opportunities, including 7-for-7 in the playoffs, the only year Manuel’s team won the World Series.
Manuel also had perhaps the best set-up man in baseball in Ryan Madsen. So, all he had to do was roll out the same All-Star lineup every game and watch them smack the ball all over the place, then call in a bullpen that never failed. Charlie the Tuna could have managed that team.
And to make things worse, Manuel’s Phillies did worse every season following their parade down Broad Street and that, too, has to fall at least somewhat on the manager. The slow tailspin looked like this:
2008: Won the World Series.
2009: Lost in the World Series.
2010: Lost in the National League Championship Series.
2011: Lost in the first round of playoffs.
2012: Didn’t make the playoffs.
2013: Was 20 ½ games out of first place when he fired.
Of course, the Phillies’ demise wasn’t all Manuel’s fault or even mostly Manuel’s fault. That falls on general manager Ruben Amaro, who failed to properly replace valuable role players like Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Ryan Madsen and also failed to restock the farm system with big-league prospects.
So, there was nothing Manuel could have done to save the Phillies the last two seasons, and eventually Amaro will have to face the music for that. But if you don’t blame Manuel for the Phillies’ failures then you can’t give him credit for their successes, especially given the All-Star hand he was dealt over the years.
Charlie Manuel will always be remembered fondly in Philadelphia and that’s as it should be. Baseball needs more men like him – honest, humble, hard-working and with a real love for the game. But now that his long and mostly successful run is over, we can’t help but think that it could have been and should have been so much better than it was.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.