COMMENTARY | It's easy to like Charlie Manuel, or at least the guy he plays on TV and the radio. He's like the lovable uncle who may not articulate his thoughts with eloquent clarity, but you just know there's got to be wisdom in there someplace. He comes off with the warm nature of that buddy you drink beer with and then makes sure you get home okay.
Plain and simple, certainly an apt description of his persona, the Charlie Manuel the public knows is a great guy.
But Charlie Manuel is the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and by the nature of Major League Baseball is accountable for some of their successes and all of their failures. That's the way professional sports work. When things go badly, the top coach takes the fall. Organizations have long addressed public perception that way, instantly changing course without really changing much of anything.
At this writing, the Phillies are coming off an absolutely abysmal road swing through Miami and Cincinnati. They did win two of three bad games in Miami, but only because the Marlins as they are currently constituted barely qualify as a major league team. In three losses to the Reds, the Phillies looked particularly gruesome offensively.
Right now, they've won six of 15 games. It's April, it's early in the season and it doesn't matter. Philadelphians and their extended brethren who follow the Phillies aren't happy. Many are calling into talk radio shows wanting Uncle Charlie out, as well as general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., team president David Montgomery and assorted high-priced players they see fitting under the bus.
But baseball tradition suggests it is Manuel who is most vulnerable. One betting website has Charlie with the best odds among all major league managers to lose his job first.
Charlie Manuel took over as Phillies' manager in 2005 and his team barely finished out of the playoffs in his first two seasons. Then he piloted the first of five straight division winners in 2007, led the Phillies to their second World Series championship ever in 2008 and their first back-to-back National League pennant ever in 2009.
Since then the team has spiraled backward. It's been a gradual descent, and injuries and just plain bad luck have played a major role. The key figures from the world championship are now showing the wear of advancing years and a whole lot of baseball games. The 2013 Phillies are pretty much built on the hope of recaptured glory. Most pundits around the country don't expect them to find it.
With a very inexpensive supporting cast and several big contracts expiring, it's very possible the Phillies are more geared toward a major overhaul next year when they'll have much more financial flexibility. But when you're trying to keep near-sellout crowds coming every night, you don't admit such things.
The Phillies also have a manager in waiting coaching over at third base. Everyone assumes the Phillies' brass would like Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg as their manager before another organization gets the same idea. It's been widely assumed he was brought up from Class AAA Lehigh Valley, where he flourished in two seasons as manager, as a precursor to succeeding Manuel. That apparent inevitability is reinforced by the fact that, at 69, Charlie is the second-oldest manager in the game and is in the final year of his contract.
The cold truth is Manuel's remaining tenure could very well be tied these first months of the season. It would be premature and nothing short of insulting to a Philadelphia legend to dismiss him after a bad April. But if the Phillies aren't doing much more than hovering around .500 at the end of May and certainly by mid-June, the Ryne Sandberg era is likely to begin.
Under the circumstances, is it fair to put that on Charlie Manuel? Probably not at all. But that's baseball, and Uncle Charlie knows that better than anyone.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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