COMMENTARY | I'm not exactly breaking new ground here by stating the Philadelphia Phillies fired the wrong man in charge of the team when they fired manager Charlie Manuel.
The truth is, it seems that the vast majority believes the person most responsible for the demise of the Phillies is not Manuel, but actually general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
There was even a "Fire Ruben" chant in the stands at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies' Saturday night loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The problem is, I don't think for a second that Amaro is in danger of losing his job.
Amaro is a lifer in the Phillies' organization. His father played for the team. Ruben, himself, played for the team. And he has been with the organization in some capacity in the front office since 1998. The ownership group and team president Dave Montgomery are comfortable with Amaro. Amaro learned the game under former GMs Ed Wade and Pat Gillick, so he was the logical choice when Gillick retired after winning the World Series in 2008.
The problem is that since Amaro took over, the team has gone in the wrong direction. After winning the World Series in 2008, the team lost the World Series in 2009, lost the NLCS in 2010, lost in the divisional round in 2011 and missed the playoffs entirely in 2012 with a .500 record. Now, this season will end with a losing record. Apparently, the direction that Amaro is leading the team is straight into the ground.
Meanwhile, Amaro made Manuel the scapegoat for his obvious failings as a GM.
Manuel leaves as the best manager in Phillies history, and I would argue that he might just be the best coach in the history of Philadelphia sports. He has exactly 1,000 career wins, and his 780 wins with the Phillies are the most in team history. He made six postseason appearances and won the division five times. Manuel led the 2011 team to a franchise-record 102 wins. He led the team to two World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009. And for those fools who think former Eagles coach Andy Reid is the greatest coach in Philadelphia sports history, Manuel led the Phillies to a championship in that magical 2008 season.
Say what you want about his in-game management, but baseball is the sport where the manager and coaches have the least impact on the outcome of the games. Baseball is more about managing the over-inflated egos of millionaires than anything else, and Manuel was always considered a players' manager. Until this season, Manuel's Phillies teams always performed their best in the second half of the season. I'll never forget when the team came from 7 1/2 games behind the New York Mets with 17 games to play to win the NL East in 2007. Even last season, the team managed to put on a late surge to finish at 81-81.
Unfortunately, that didn't translate into success with the same core players this season. In the interest of full disclosure, I thought this Phillies team had one last run in them. I was as wrong as Amaro, but, then again, I'm not the GM of the team.
Sure, injuries to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ben Revere and Mike Adams and Carlos Ruiz's 25-game drug suspension contributed to the team's demise, but Amaro shoulders the blame for assembling the second-worst bullpen in all of baseball. He also should be taken to task for thinking that the whole Delmon Young experiment was a worthwhile undertaking. It speaks volumes that Young hasn't even signed on with another team since the Phillies released him, while the Cubs were able to get a prospect in a trade for Alfonso Soriano.
Of course, the problems go deeper than just this past offseason. Amaro has made splashy trades for big names like Cliff Lee, Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. He even signed some of the biggest names in free agency when he brought Lee back, after trading him away the same day he traded for Halladay, and signing closer Jonathan Papelbon to the richest contract ever given to a reliever.
But that's part of the problem. Amaro isn't really a good judge of talent. He just has a nearly unlimited payroll. Howard and Papelbon are untradeable with the ridiculous contracts that Amaro gave them. Jimmy Rollins is in serious decline and signed for two more years. The Pence trade was a disaster. And anytime Amaro has traded away an established player for prospects, he has gotten nothing in return. Remember how his return for trading away Lee before the 2010 season was Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Tyson Gillies? That couldn't have been a bigger disaster.
Amaro has also depleted the farm system with lackluster drafts and all of those big trades where he stripped the minors of talent. Now that Domonic Brown is in the majors, there isn't a highly touted prospect waiting to burst onto into the big leagues at any level in the Phillies' minor league system.
The homegrown core of the greatest era in Phillies history (Howard, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz and Hamels) was drafted under the stewardship of Wade. It's also not a coincidence that the team's drafting has suffered since Amaro was named GM over Mike Arbuckle, who ran the drafts before leaving the team in disgust.
Sooner or later, Amaro is going to run out of scapegoats and the silent owners of the Philadelphia Phillies will finally realize that the real problem with the current team is sitting in the GM's office.
Maybe that day is closer than I think. After all, the fan backlash against the firing of Manuel has been almost unanimous in backing the former manager. That's what happens when you win only the second championship in team history and the first championship in any sport in the last 28 years in a city starved for a winner.
Judging from the quotes from the locker room, even the players are on Manuel's side.
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Chase Utley said, "I love Charlie Manuel, on the field and off. I wanted to play my entire career for him."
I'm now left to wonder whether Amaro waited to fire Manuel until after he got Utley to sign an extension.
The Inquirer also reported that Rollins said, "We weren't getting the job done on the field and [Manuel] took the fall for it."
Heck, even ex-Phillies players came to Manuel's defense. "I thought he deserved better," Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said.
Yes. Yes, he did.
For his part, Manuel was a class act to the end. He was there at the press conference when Amaro announced his firing, even though nobody actually used the word "fired." Manuel joked, "I'm mad because they took the best seat in the house away from me." But he said it with a smile that hid the fact that he must have been stung by the actions of his GM. He even kept a commitment to sign autographs at a local mall the day after his firing. That's the kind of character Charlie Manuel has. Unfortunately, for Manuel and the fans, character isn't a word many would use to describe the often arrogant Amaro.
Firing him wasn't the worst thing that Amaro did to Charlie Manuel, who Gillick once said "never had a bad day." The worst thing Amaro did was give Manuel this fatally flawed roster.
Regardless of what you thought about Charlie Manuel as a tactical manager, his firing was a bad day for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans. Hopefully, the day will come soon enough when Ruben Amaro has to answer for his failings as general manager instead of pushing the blame on a great manager and an even better man.
Bob Whalon is a life-long Philadelphia Phillies follower who isn't quite ready to let go of the greatest era of Phillies baseball just yet. He is, however, willing to let go of certain GMs.
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