On Friday afternoon, the Charlie Manuel era in Philadelphia ended. It was at a press conference in Citizens Bank Park where Ruben Amaro tearfully announced that Manuel would no longer be managing the Philadelphia Phillies, thanks in part to a lot of things, not the least of which was a disappointing season that sees the Phillies closer to last place in the division than first place. After a time, Amaro turned it over to Manuel, who spoke and reflected on his time with the Phillies, saying – among other things - “I never quit nothing and I did not resign.”
Whether or not Charlie was fired, or relieved, or dismissed, one thing remains clear: Friday was a pretty lousy day for Phillies fans, whose feelings on the firing ranged from sad to angry to indifferent.
For a lot of fans, Charlie Manuel is the only manager that many of them have ever known. I don't mean that in the sense that many only started following the Phillies during his tenure, but in the sense that the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle and cable channels dedicated to nothing but the Phillies have allowed a level of access not seen in the days of Larry Bowa or Terry Francona. Sure, Jim Fregosi led the 1993 team to the World Series, but his presence was not felt nearly as much as Charlie's.
The fact that the Phillies won a World Series under Manuel's tenure certainly helped endear him to many of the fans that wanted him gone less than two years into what would become a nine-year run of managing many of the best teams in franchise history. His “aw shucks” demeanor and slow drawl didn't do much to change the impression (in large part thanks to the media) that he wasn't a smart guy, nor a good manager. But like anything else, preconceived notions go out the window once you start to perform, and once the Phillies won division title after division title, people started to care less and less about Manuel's ability as a manager, no matter how inaccurate those notions were to start.
But no matter what you think about Charlie as a manager, a clubhouse presence, or a person, his severance from the organization on Friday was not only not a surprise, but almost an expected next move in a series of moves that has led the team to where they currently are: near the bottom of the division and near the bottom of the league, in a sort of free fall that has more to do with the failings of Ruben Amaro as a General Manager than Charlie, who was nothing more than a victim of circumstances that were totally beyond his control.
His dismissal, or his firing, or the parting of ways between himself and the organization was inevitable. When the Phillies hired Ryne Sandberg to man the helm of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs prior to the 2011 season, it was only a matter of time before he would replace Manuel. After all, you don't pry someone like Sandberg away from the Chicago Cubs organization (where he was passed over for the big league job) unless there are certain expectations about when he might get to manage at the Major League level. And with Charlie Manuel just shy of 70 years of age, and with his contract set to expire at the end of this season, it seemed like Sandberg was going to take over at the start of the 2014 season, anyway.
The question is, then, if Charlie deserved a better ending to what has been a great career as the skipper of the Phillies. He oversaw the team during it's greatest era of success, which included two National League pennants, and only the second World Series title in the organization's history. He played a vital role in the development and subsequent success of some of the greatest Phillies of all time, including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels. And despite the failures of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, that should in no way lessen the impact that Charlie Manuel has had on the organization, the team, the players, and the city. So, then, why was he unceremoniously showed the door on a Friday afternoon, only a few hours before the first pitch of that night's game?
To that, there is no easy answer. Charlie knew full well that Wednesday's loss against the Atlanta Braves was the last game he would manage in a Phillies uniform, just two days after he won the 1,000th game of his career. That, surely, is no coincidence. I've made no secret about my feelings regarding Ruben Amaro's ability as a General Manager, but he was faced with an impossible situation regarding cutting ties with Manuel. If he lets him finish out a lost season, then Charlie is a lame duck manager who is merely going through the motions knowing that it literally doesn't matter what the team does over the final month plus of the season, while his replacement stands along the third base line collecting dust.
In my opinion, Amaro did what he thought was the best for Charlie, the best for Sandberg, and the best for the team. And I don't think that's a bad thing, at all. At the very least, this lets Sandberg get his feet wet as a manager, while allowing the players to adjust to what is sure to be a new style. It's the start of a new era for the Phillies, one that will be ushered in by the likes of young players like Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, along with veterans like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. Making a change in the manager's seat makes sense.
Now, the downside to this is that Sandberg is being handed a team that isn't particularly good. There are some bright spots, and a good off-season and a little bit of luck can turn the Phillies into a competitor as early as 2014, but it's important to realize that a new manager isn't a cure-all. That burden is on the upper management, and it requires Ruben Amaro and company to take a long look in the mirror and realize that they need a much greater change than just the guy filling out the lineup card every night. But that is another post for another day.
I enjoyed Charlie Manuel a great deal, even while I never thought he was a great in-game tactician. And in my opinion, managers have a largely insignificant role on the overall success of a team, as they are not responsible for any of the on-the-field action, provided that they are putting out the best possible lineup on a daily basis. Whatever your thoughts are on Manuel, you can't take away from his accomplishments in Philadelphia, the greatest of which came on a blustery Wednesday night in October of 2008, when he stood triumphantly in Citizens Bank Park, and proudly shouted to the fans “This is for Philadelphia!”