One of the familiar lines from Charlie Manuel’s detractors during his nine-year run as Phillies manager was, “if he is such a hitting guru, why aren’t the Phillies hitting better?”
Well, you have to listen to Manuel and apply what he says since the most successful manager in the Phillies history knows hitting.
Five years ago, my then nine-year old daughter was having some issues catching up with the heat in her new level of softball. I explained the situation to Manuel after he addressed the media before a game and asked for advice. He smiled while saying this was right in his wheel-house.
“Your daughter bats left-handed just like I did,” Manuel said. “Alright. Tell her I want her to do what I did when I batted against Nolan Ryan. I want her to cheat. What I mean is that I want her to drop her bat into the zone just as the pitcher is winding up. Then I want her to flick her bat at the ball and hit it the other way, just like Ichico (Suzuki) and she’ll be fine.”
Manuel was right. His 60-second tutorial was exactly what Jillian needed as she hit one ball after another over the shortstop’s head.
“If they’re throwing hard, let them do most of the work for you,” Manuel said. “You’ll see.”
A few weeks later Manuel asked how my daughter was hitting. I told him that she was doing fine.
“I knew it,” Manuel said. “I was just checking.”
Not every manager would be so keen on offering such advice or care about the pupil he never met. But Manuel is a people person and not only does he know a lot about hitting, he loves to talk about the sweet science.
One of the highlights over the years of covering Manuel was listening to him wax about all that he experienced during his career. Manuel would ramble on about his experiences in the minors, his period when he dominated in Japan or when he managed in Cleveland.
“I remember one time when I was with the Indians and Manny (Ramirez) lost his luggage,” Manuel said. “In that luggage were a couple of really big checks he didn’t care about that. What did he care about? Some necklaces he had in there. But that was Manny for you.”
Part of what made Manuel so special was his ability to connect with players. It didn’t matter if you were an enigmatic legend like Ramirez or if you were a role-player, you loved to play for Manuel, who always had his players’ backs. The only Phillie to ever disrespect Manuel during his lengthy run in Philadelphia was Jonathan Papelbon, who expressed that the team needed changes, top to bottom, after the Phillies lost eight in a row last month.
“My favorite manager I ever played for was Charlie,” former Phillies starter Jon Lieber said. “I played for a lot of different managers, including Joe Torre and Charlie was hands down the best. We could get our butts kicked and lose 20-0 and he would come by your locker, pat you on the back and say, ‘it’s alright, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow.’ He always knew what to say.”
Just ask a nine-year old girl. Charlie had the solution for her and for most of his memorable era in Philadelphia.