When Jayson Werth saw Charlie Manuel, he went after his manager like he was a hanging curve.
After Werth hit a game-winning home run in the ninth inning in mid-September, the Phillies right fielder sought out Manuel to deliver a bear hug just after crossing the plate.
“I was caught up in the moment,” Werth said. “When I saw Charlie I just gave him the biggest hug I could give. Charlie is like that uncle you have that you always liked and looked up to, and who always took care of you.”
Manuel, who has been the Phillies skipper since 2005, has arguably done his finest job of managing. The hitting guru dealt with a myriad of injuries. Every regular, save Werth, hit the disabled list. Manuel penned more than 100 different lineups this season.
“We have a lot of talent on the team,” Manuel said. “That includes the bench guys that filled in. We couldn’t have done this without them.”
Bench coach Pete Mackanin agrees with Manuel, but believes his co-conspirator made a huge impact.
“Charlie couldn’t have pulled this off without the talent we have on this team, but the thing about Charlie is that he always kept the ship pointed in the right direction,” Mackanin said. “The players love to play for him.”
5 reasons we love Charlie
With the best record in the majors already locked up, Manuel could’ve easily rested his regulars last Sunday against Atlanta. Instead, he rolled out his Opening Day lineup, including Jimmy Rollins, and nearly rallied the Phillies to a win. Manuel even let Cole Hamels start the game, with Roy Oswalt coming in for an inning of relief. Of course, the Phillies had nothing to play for. However, a win over the division rival Braves would have forced a one-game playoff between San Diego and Atlanta for the NL Wild Card.
“We thought we’d give our best to the Braves,” Manuel said. “We came back and we had a chance.”
No other skipper appreciates baseball’s sacred traditions more. He is against adding more instant replay, saying it would erase the “human element,” frequently references Ted Williams’ “The Science of Hitting,” and claims he once topped Mickey Mantle in a home-run contest. More importantly, the 66-year-old continues to win the praise and respect of his peers.
“Don’t underestimate the impact Charlie has had on that team,” longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I love Charlie. He’s a super good guy, who has to be a joy to play for and the guy wins.”
When he first arrived here, Manuel was often mocked for his slow gait and Southern drawl. One local radio host dubbed him: “Elmer Fudd.” However, winning cures everything. In six seasons in the Phillies’ dugout, he has won 544 regular-season games and posted a .560 winning percentage. He has guided the franchise to four straight NL East crowns, back-to-back NL pennants and a World Series’ title. This year, he’s gunning for another.
“At the end of the World Series last year when I talked to our team, I told them that I feel like we owe the Yankees one,” Manuel said before this season began. That quest begins today.
Whether it’s arguing a call — he’s been ejected 30 times in his career — or benching a player for not hustling on a fly ball, Manuel isn’t afraid to speak his mind. When the Phillies went into a midseason slump, he fired longtime hitting coach Milt Thompson. Last year, after the Phils had posted a disappointing 9-14 home record, he even called out the fan base for dwelling too much on the 2008 World Series’ championship.
“I want the fans to start telling them they want to win this year, too,” he said. “Of course they love us and everything, but maybe they should get on them a little bit.”
There’s no quit in Charlie, and he never gives up on players. When Brad Lidge blew a league-worst 11 saves last season, the Phils skipper stuck with his struggling closer. This year, he’s kept the team afloat despite a rash of injuries (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard all missed significant time). But he always arrives at the ballpark thinking his team can win. Turns out, he was right about 60 percent of the time. It’s that kind of attitude that might earn Manuel the NL’s Manager of the Year award.
“He has so much confidence in us. That trickles down to us,” Howard said. “He thinks we’re going to win and so do we. Considering all that happened this year, Charlie never showed signs of panic. It goes down from there. The coaching staff didn’t panic. We didn’t panic. We know how good we are. If we forgot, Charlie would remind us.”