Something is not right with this picture.
Players universally loved playing for Charlie Manuel. Even players who are no longer with the Phillies, like Jayson Werth, said that Manuel deserved better than an in-season firing as a thank you for being the all-time winningest manager in Phillies history, and one of only two to deliver a World Series championship. Werth spent 15 minutes talking to the media about Manuel and the impact he had on Werth’s career.
Despite the outpouring of affection from all corners of the baseball world, many of the same players who love Manuel let him down.
They simply weren’t good enough in 2012 and 2013. Not nearly close to what they were from 2007-2011 when they were winning 5 straight NL East crowns.
So let the posturing begin.
Ryne Sandberg, Manuel’s replacement for the foreseeable future, wants to put his imprimatur on things – and started by calling out Jimmy Rollins. More about his approach at the plate than anything else.
But Roy Halladay piled on even more. In comments that some took as being critical of Manuel, those who know how to read between the lines know that Halladay was firing a salvo at Rollins, talking about how Sandberg stresses the importance of “guys being at places on time, being on the field on time, taking ground balls, taking extra BP, all those things that nobody thinks makes a difference.”
The irony is that Manuel was Rollins’ biggest protector – and that Rollins let him down by his declining play, which has reached new lows in 2013. Rollins didn’t help matters – as I recently pointed out on our Sunday BlogTalkRadio show – by belligerently waving his desire to get to the top of many Phillies all-time individual statistical categories in all of our faces when he was asked about the possibility of waiving his no-trade rights.
Even Chase Utley, who earned himself the opportunity to finish his career as a Phillie, and who generally is lauded as a leader and among the smartest ballplayers of his era – basically took two straight off-seasons off and didn’t take care of his knees (one knee per season), costing the team half a season of his services in two consecutive years. Is it merely a coincidence that this season – a contract year – Utley finally showed up healthy and ready to play in the spring? He has been among the most productive Phillies in 2013 – but it really is too little, too late.
Here’s Manuel’s own spin – that he “had the best seat in the house” during the Phillies’ run. It may seem humble of him to dismiss his impact on the wins, but it also was his own way of distancing himself from the losing as well.
When asked if he thought his team had the pieces in place to be able to win the last two years, Manuel shot from the hip and quickly said “The last two years, no…I can straight-face tell you that.”
And that’s a fair point.
The team rose and is now falling based on a core that is aging, and with the exception of this season’s breakout by Domonic Brown, has been woefully short of impact players coming up from the farm system to make up for the veterans’ decline – especially in the bullpen, which is chock full of young arms who throw in the mid-90′s with poor command. Patching the situation up with free agents (Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Delmon Young) hasn’t worked, nor have the trades for lower-cost options (Hunter Pence, Michael Young). The acquisition of Ben Revere may turn out well, but the Phillies are suffering from the bad luck of Revere’s broken ankle – which when combined with Ryan Howard‘s knee surgery – started the Phils on their post all-star break free fall that led to Manuel’s dismissal.
That puts the onus squarely on Ruben Amaro, Jr. – along with those in charge of scouting, drafting American and Canadian players, signing international players and developing them. These folks reaped what was sown for them ten years prior, and in an effort to keep the good times rolling, drove the tractor into a ditch.
I’m not buying WIP host Angelo Cataldi’s opinion that Phillies fans were “snookered by [Manuel's] bumbling charm.” Phillies fans were quick to notice that Manuel was a poor in-game manager early on, but improved somewhat with time. The more important thing is that the team performed well over time. Their even-keeled demeanor – a reflection of Manuel – helped them overcome slow starts and finish strongly. Arguably that approach, more than anything else, was responsible for the hot streak that culminated in a World Series championship in 2008.
Cataldi says Manuel blew the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. I seem to recall Cliff Lee blowing a 4-0 lead in Game 2, squandering what would have been a 2-0 series lead in a 5-game series and turning a laugher into a tense battle. I also recall Manuel using his bench effectively, getting a game-winning pinch home run from Ben Francisco in Game 3. I also recall the Phillies’ bats failing to bail out Lee in Game 2, getting stymied by a parade of relievers who are currently in the minors, and in Game 5, when they couldn’t figure out Chris Carpenter after chasing him early in Game 2.
The simplest answer for the picture of Charlie Manuel’s tenure being askew is this: Human nature. It’s human nature to rest on one’s laurels. To get comfortable with success. To expect it without necessarily putting forth the same effort that one put forth before they tasted success.
Manuel clearly was loyal to his players and they were loyal to him. He established roles for them, and when the team was winning, he was an ideal manager. But when individual players increasingly failed in their roles – either for complacency or lack of talent – Manuel was very slow to react and make a change.
It’s easy to say that his style encourages complacency.
He might tell you that he didn’t have a deep enough roster where he could effectively use competition for playing time as a motivator.
Others would say that Manuel was loathe to dig new wells when the current well was obviously dry.
It really comes down to whether you think the manager has more to do with a team’s success than the players (preposterous) or the general manager (less so in today’s game than when the reserve rule was in effect and player movement was practically nonexistent).
Maybe Charlie was along for the ride…but it was a great ride.
We’ll look back on it fondly.
And now it’s over.