By Lawrence Monaco
Ruben Amaro finally made a move. After standing pat at the trade deadline, then cutting some dead weight (in Delmon Young’s case, A LOT of dead weight), Ruben woke up from his nap long enough to make a tough decision. The Philadelphia Phillies said goodbye to one of their most successful managers in franchise history today, as they fired fan favorite Charlie Manuel.
Let’s get one thing straight. Charlie Manuel is a terrific person. He is a kind-hearted baseball ‘lifer’ that earned his reputation as a player’s coach. If you ignore all of his positive personal attributes, his managing resume stands tall on its own. He brought Philadelphia its first World Championship since 1983, and the franchise’s first title since 1980. He led his teams to 6 division titles (five in Philly, one with Cleveland) and 2 National League Pennants. He won his 1,000th game just this week, 780 of which he earned with the Phillies. He has been credited with helping sluggers like Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome find their swing. He deserves all the thanks and praise that he is receiving, and then some.
But….. this was the right move.
On my way home from work today, I couldn’t believe how many people were calling in to Mike Missanelli’s show complaining that the Phillies made this decision. I heard many terms, including “classless,” “disgraceful,” and “ridiculous” used to describe letting Charlie go. The common theme seemed to be that they should have let him finish out this season. What’s the point exactly? Why do you need Charlie in the dugout for the last 42 games? I understand the whole ‘disrespect’ angle with being fired as opposed to leaving on your own terms, but you are dealing with a team that needs sweeping changes from top to bottom. It was decided that Charlie would not be returning in 2014, so why ride it out as a lame duck? How does that benefit anyone? Remember last season when the Eagles let Andy Reid finish the season when they were dead in the water? That wasn’t a popular decision at all. Why is this getting so much heat?
The Phillies are not a good team. They were constructed poorly, and that falls on Ruben Amaro, not Charlie Manuel. Still, even with the lack of talent and the injuries they have faced this year, don’t you feel like the team has underperformed? How many games have you watched and been frustrated with a player (cough, Jimmy Rollins, cough) not running out a ground ball? How many times have you pulled your hair out when a player comes up following a 4-pitch walk, and swings at the first pitch? How about at the beginning of the year, about two games in, when we all figured out that Chad Durbin was useless, yet Charlie kept trotting him out there game after game? Or last year, with Chad ‘fist pump’ Qualls?
Yes, neither player should have been on the team. But it’s up to the manager to shift him to mop-up duty once you realize he is struggling every time he takes the mound. The Phillies usually carry 7 arms in the bullpen. You don’t put either of them in if it’s a close game. You don’t put Ryan Howard in the lineup 10 straight games when he he can’t hit for power and is visibly limping around the bases. You don’t start Delmon Young everyday, even if your other options are Laynce Nix and John Mayberry. These things fall on the manager. I don’t expect him to make the playoffs with this team, but I think it’s fair to say that they should have won more games than they have to this point.
Right now everyone is furious that Charlie was fired. So quickly people forget what public opinion was when he was hired prior to the 2005 season. Fans were clamoring for Jim Leyland, a proven World Series winner. Many felt the only reason Manuel got the job was because of his connection with Jim Thome, the Phillies’ prized free agent signing. Others believed his ‘AL managerial style’ wouldn’t translate to the national league. All valid arguments that are hard to disagree with even now. But we all know the cliché, ‘winning cures all.’ Until you stop winning.
I do not want to belittle Charlie Manuel’s accomplishments. He should be celebrated and honored and remembered fondly. My point is simply to put things into perspective . He is a great guy, and I have no doubt that he loved his job, loved this team, and did his best to win with the slop he was given the past two years. He spent almost nine seasons here. It was time for a new voice in the clubhouse. It was time for Charlie to move on.
I am excited to see what Ryne Sandberg can become as a manager. It’s obvious he knows the game and has a solid understanding of the fundamentals. What excites me about Sandberg is that he paid his dues and worked his way up to earn this opportunity. He wasn’t simply handed a job because he was a Hall of Fame player. He coached and managed his way up through the minor leagues between the Cubs and then the Phillies, spent this season with the team, and deserves this shot to prove himself. And honestly, how poetic is it that Ryno gets his shot with the team that drafted him and traded him away, only to watch him have a Hall of Fame career in Chicago? It’s finally our turn to reap the benefits of Sandberg in a Phillies uniform. I hope.
The writing has been on the wall the past few seasons that Sandberg was Charlie’s heir apparent. Why wait until the offseason to make the switch? If Sandberg is absolutely terrible, or overwhelmed, or clashes with a guy like Cole Hamels or Chase Utley, isn’t it better to find out now, and go into the offseason knowing you have to look at other options? If you plan on giving him the job anyway, why wait and risk other teams asking permission to interview him? There is no question the team was comfortable under Manuel, and when you get comfortable, you can get complacent. Maybe having a new sheriff in town will light a fire or two. Again, it makes sense to find these things out now, during meaningless baseball games, than to wait until next year and potentially waste half a season in which your team might be a contender. Falling behind early can cost you a wild card spot, assuming Ruben improves the team enough. No guarantees there either.
I will never forget the run of Phillies baseball from 2007-2011, and Charlie Manuel was a big reason for the team’s success. I will always remember the 2008 season, and every time I hear his name I will immediately think of one thing….
Sincerely, honestly, and truly, thank you, Charlie, for one hell of a run.