His folksy charm and questionable in-game decision making notwithstanding, there's no questioning the fact that Philadelphia Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel has endured in one of the toughest sports towns in the country. That longevity became etched in Phillies' lore on May 9 when Manuel managed his 1,332 game for the franchise, making him the longest-tenured manager in the team's 130-year history.
Manuel passed Gene Mauch, who shepherded the club from 1960-1968. Manuel topped Mauch for the club's all-time lead in managerial wins during the 2012 season. His lifetime record of 743-590 far betters Mauch's winning percentage.
Manuel's tenure in Philadelphia has had its ups and downs, but when you break a 25-year streak of championship ineptitude for one of the five biggest markets in the country, the downs take a backseat -- I mean back of the Suburban van type of backseat.
His reputation is that of a player's manager, which goes a long way in the clubhouse but often does not translate to the playing diamond. After replacing Larry Bowa, a hard core, blue-collar leader, Manuel's style seemed soft in a city that takes no excuses and is quit to judgement. His trademark two rules, show up on time and hustle, have seldom been challenged (unless your name is Jimmy Rollins), and his penchant for allowing the team to police itself has worked well over the years.
In his nine seasons, Uncle Charlie has won five National League Eastern Division titles, two National League pennants and the 2008 World Series. Not bad for a hobbled old man from the backwoods of West Virginia.
While Manuel's success greatly trumps any of the 50 other managers that have led the Phillies since 1883, including two-time skipper Harry Wright of the 1800s, revered 1970s manager Danny Ozark, or the litany of finely named field generals like Gavvy Cravath, Stuffy McGinnis and Eddie Sawyer, he's often questioned for his in-game strategies.
The Phillies dropped a game to the Arizona Diamondbacks Thursday night, the game that gave Manuel the top spot on the managerial list, and in doing so showcased some classic Uncle Charlie decision making. With runners at second and third with one out in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, Manuel pulled the infield in with pitcher Patrick Corbin at the plate. Once lefty Cole Hamels got ahead with a strike, Manuel inexplicably pulled the infield back up the middle, leaving them in at the corners when there was no double play situation. Corbin then promptly grounded weakly to shortstop Jimmy Rollins whose only play was to first. The Diamondbacks went up 2-1, and that's the way the game finished.
On a team that struggles scoring runs, pulling the infield back in that scenario was an egregious decision.
The city of Philadelphia will forever be indebted to Manuel for the five glorious seasons he gave us in the middle of his tenure, and the fans hold on to a small sliver of hope that they can keep that window open for one more season, although with each passing day the quips "it's early" and "they're a second half team" become more incredulous. Odds are, this is not a playoff team, however competitive and as often as they'll show us signs of the recent past. It's also likely this is Manuel's last season with the Phillies, as Ryne Sandberg waits in the wings as the heir apparent.
In the end, Manuel will end up on the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park, and he'll go down as the greatest manager in Phillies' history to date. Numbers don't lie, and for a franchise with more than 10,000 losses in its history, Manuel's numbers are simply better than his compatriots. No matter how many times we were left scratching our heads watching him get there.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for more than three years and has followed the club since the days when Paul "The Pope" Owens couldn't decide whether he was a GM or a coach. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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