Charlie Manuel lost the love of his life on Friday. Charlie arrived at Citizens Bank Park wearing a pink button down shirt instead of the familiar red pinstripes he wore for nine seasons as Phillies manager. It was not his wardrobe of choice.
The decision to remove Manuel as skipper of the Philadelphia Phillies made sense in many ways, but it is difficult to evoke pragmatism when you observe the heart ripped out from the chest of a 69-year-old man. The bumbling Charlie of Mayberry with the thick southern draw similarly pulled at the heart strings of anyone watching Friday's solemn press conference. For a man lacking the gift of oratory, it only took a few words to reveal his pain.
"I love wearing that uniform," a reflective Charlie said. "I would put it on today if I could have."
...if I could have...
Managers lose jobs when teams don't play well and Charlie understands that as much as anyone. His pain stems not as much from the firing itself as the fact that he lost the game he loves so much.
"I'm mad because they took the best seat in the house away from me," Charlie said.
He was mad because he wanted so badly to step onto that field at 10 am like he always does, stand behind the batting cage as he always does, offer a positive phrase and a handshake to his players as he always does, and watch the game he loves as he always does.
Charlie garnered several laughs when he described how he plans to fill his time. "I figure I'll get up real early," Manuel said, "get to the ballpark, and get out of here before people get here." What is so disheartening is that Charlie wasn't joking.
Some say that a manager can win or lose five games all on his own, and Charlie probably falls on the downside of that mark. Time will hopefully not remember Charlie Manuel for his poor vernacular, his mismanagement of the bullpen, or his tactical errors.
But Charlie's success cannot be equated to a handful of specific game day mistakes throughout the season. Charlie's success should be measured instead by the chart below.
Charlie Manuel got the best out of his team and best out of his players - this chart proves it. While it is easy to point out his specific tactical errors, it is harder to pinpoint his understanding of people, evaluation of talent, and mastery of the clubhouse.
Charlie forces his players to earn playing time, but once they earn that playing time he sticks with them. Jayson Werth is a perfect example. Werth struggled against righties when he first joined the team and was relegated to the role of platoon player with veteran Geoff Jenkins. Werth needed to prove he could hit righties if he wanted to play everyday and an injury to Jenkins gave Werth that opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history.
When Howard and Utley first came up they barely played against lefties. Practical thought said, "How can they hit lefties if they don't get to see them?" But Charlie knew better. Confidence supersedes all in Charlie's mind and the confidence against right-handers spilled over against lefties. They eventually earned regular playing time, established themselves as big league hitters, and became superstars.
Brad Lidge endured a difficult 2009 season. Despite costing the Phillies an innumerable amount of games, Charlie stuck with his closer. Those losses count towards those five games won or lost by a manager. Some may call this loyal to a fault, but this was as much a message to his team as it was a message to his closer. It was the mortar forming the cohesion of the entire clubhouse.
Charlie never gave up on his team or his players and it paid off down the stretch. His faith in a player like Lidge demonstrated faith in all of his players. They knew that one bad play or one bad at-bat in a crucial game in September would not land them a seat on the bench. It allowed the Phillies to play relaxed baseball while other teams would cower under pennant race heat.
His loyalty to his players, along with an even temperament, led to a winning atmosphere. His teams reflected the personality of their manager: never too high, never too low.
The result was a team with a stunning 357-232 record and a .606 winning percentage after the all-star break...not just for one season, but over nearly nine seasons with the Phillies. That includes the wretched 5-19 record in 2013 and last year's 81-81 team.
To ignore his strategic mistakes would be to ignore the entire picture. Charlie made many misjudgments with personnel during games and had an inability/unwillingness to play small ball which undoubtedly damaged the team. It is hard to argue with those who point out these shortcomings because they stare us directly in the face.
But there is one thing that cannot be debated: Charlie Manuel was a winner. When history reflects on the legacy of Charlie Manuel, that is what it will remember. Charlie is fine with that.
Rich Hoffman shared in a piece yesterday a conversation he had with Charlie Manuel after beating the Brewers in the 2008 NLCS.
"You know?" he asked Hoffman. "Know what I'd like people to call me? A winner, that's what."
That is not what people were calling him when he first took over. His mumbling speech instantly made him the butt of jokes and the fact that his name wasn't Jim Leyland didn't help much. When the Phillies began the 2005 season 15-21, Charlie was serenaded with boos every time he waddled to the mound for a pitching change.
8 years, 7 winning seasons, 5 NL East titles, 2 pennants, and 1 World Championship later, the sentiment has changed. He won over the hearts of millions of Phillies fans and brought the city a desperately needed parade 25 years overdue.
It is tough to handle the photo of Charlie leaving the ballpark for the last time, but such is the harsh reality of Major League Baseball. Charlie Manuel got his heart broken, but I wonder now if the hearts that were broken were our own.
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