By Mike Ivcic
One of the most interesting moments in my time following baseball happened Friday afternoon, when the Phillies relieved Charlie Manuel of his duties as manager. No, that wasn’t the interesting moment – it’s what happened immediately after that announcement, as my social media network began filling up with responses and reaction to the news. As someone born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, most of the people I encountered through high school were Phillies fans, and I always found them to be some of the more unreasonable, irrational baseball fans I’ve known. I’ve never questioned their passion – Philly at least has that part figured out – but I’ve always questioned their intelligence, and once again I found plenty of examples to support my theory Friday afternoon. So allow me, please, the forum to counter some of the outlandish notions that were released into the internet atmosphere with regards to Manuel’s dismissal.
“Charlie Manual deserved better from the Phillies.”
Newsflash – the year is 2013, and this is major professional sports. It’s the epitome of the “what have you done for me lately” culture. Don Mattingly currently presides over the hottest team in baseball and one of the two or three favorites to win the World Series and he almost got fired in May. For the Phillies fans that haven’t noticed, this will be the second straight season that the team will miss the playoffs after winning five straight division titles, and in both years the organization sported the second highest payroll in the National League. They also left Atlanta on Wednesday with a 53-67 record, the worst winning percentage this late into a season in all of Manuel’s tenure, which began in 2005. Charlie’s forte is hitting, and he’s presiding over a team that ranks 28th in runs and 27th in on base percentage. They entered the All-Star break at exactly .500 (48-48) and proceeded to kill any and all playoff hopes with a 5-19 stretch of putrid baseball which includes losing seven of the eight series after the break, four of them sweeps – St. Louis, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington. Yes, there have been injuries and yes, Manuel did not assemble the team he had, but the offensive philosophy and approach at the plate does fall somewhat on the manager’s shoulders, and Manuel failed miserably. In sports, when a player, coach, or manager fails to produce the desired results, typically the person directly above them will find a replacement – which is exactly what Ruben Amaro Jr. did. Is it “fair?” Probably not. But again, this is 21st century sports, and to say that Manuel deserves better ignores the fact that the business simply doesn’t work that way anymore – for anyone.
“The Phillies won in spite of Charlie Manuel, not because of him.”
This is my other favorite line that I heard and read quite often. While it’s true that he’s not the best in-game manager ever, he was perfect for the 2007-2009 Phillies, where each and every player had their own defined role and Manuel could trot out the same lineup 150 times each season. I liken Manuel to the NL version of Joe Torre and the Yankees, who succeeded because the manager had a tremendous feel for his clubhouse and let the players lead themselves. Once Jimmy Rollins made the statement in spring training of 2007 that the Phillies were “the team to beat,” Manuel knew he didn’t have to do any motivating or create any added importance. Rollins, along with Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, and Ryan Howard, led the Phillies maturation from “talented young players” to “veteran winners” in an almost overnight transformation, and Manuel deserves a ton of credit for creating that culture and then allowing the players to continue it as they saw fit. It was that exact culture that allowed Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and a host of other lesser role players to excel without any added pressure from the manager – the players were dictating all of that. Manuel also deserves credit for turning around the career of Jayson Werth, who used Manuel’s teaching to become one of the best fastball-hitting right handed hitters in the game and parlayed that into a massively inflated contract from Washington. Manuel may not be perfect for the current team that has struggled through injuries, forcing the manager to piece together a different lineup each night and stray a good bit out of his comfort zone, but he doesn’t become the all-time winningest manager in franchise history – even the “losingest” franchise in all of professional sports – by not being a solid baseball mind.
So what, then is the verdict on the Phillies decision? Ultimately, it’s a win-win for everyone, as Manuel gets some time off before he pursues one final managerial job and the Phillies get the chance to see if Ryne Sandberg really is capable of handling a major league ballclub. The only real loser here that I see is Amaro, who just used up his only bullet. If Sandberg doesn’t do any better with this group than Manuel did, perhaps management will come to the conclusion – and the proper one, might I add – that the real fundamental flaw with the organization is with is composition, not with its on-field leader. This is a team that has a handful of top-line talent, stars like Utley, Howard, Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and even Rollins – but not much besides Domonic Brown to offer as a legitimate supporting cast. The farm system is depleted because of the trades for Lee and Halladay, so perhaps ownership will change courses and bring in a GM that will focus on restocking the minor league teams. Either way, the Charlie Manuel era of Phillies baseball is officially over and Phillies fans just can’t seem to figure out how they feel about it.
As a Mets fan, I know how I feel about it, though – still angry about 2007 and 2008. So this day, the day when the Phillies were bad enough to fire their manager, couldn’t have come soon enough.
But no, I’m not bitter. Not at all.
Playoff “Dead” List
August 19 – Philadelphia Phillies – For all of the reasons I just outlined above, this was a rather easy choice. Next week’s will be, too – San Francisco, you’re on the clock.
August 12 – Colorado Rockies
August 5 – Los Angeles Angels
July 29 – Toronto Blue Jays
July 22 – San Diego Padres
July 15 – Minnesota Twins
July 8 – Chicago White Sox
July 1 – Milwaukee Brewers
June 24 – Seattle Mariners
June 17 – Chicago Cubs
June 10 – New York Mets
June 3 – Houston Astros
May 27 – Miami Marlins
Three series to watch this week…
1) TAM @ BAL (8/19-8/21) – Huge mid-week series for these two teams, currently fist and third in the Wild Card standings, respectively. The Orioles can hit, the Rays can pitch, so it’ll be a nice contrast of styles at Camden Yards. The biggest winner here? Oakland, who will either gain on Tampa or separate from Baltimore – because someone has to lose in this series.
2) ARZ @ CIN (8/19-8/22) – If Arizona has any designs on making the postseason, these are the four biggest games of the year. Catching LA is almost impossible with the way the Dodgers are playing, so passing one of the Central teams for the Wild Card is likely the only way in. The D-backs trail the Reds by just five games now, but the flip side is that the entire NL playoff field could virtually be set if Cincinnati wins at least three here.
3) TOR @ NYY (8/20-8/22) – The Yankees have been pounding the ball recently, thanks primarily to an unreal week from Alfonso Soriano. If they want to make a final postseason push, they’ll need to win home games against inferior teams and with a doubleheader Tuesday the opportunity is here for NY to make up some ground.
Three series to watch this weekend…
1) ATL @ STL (8/22-8/25) – What a fun four games this should be, as the NL-leading Braves visit the Gateway City. Every game is vital for the Cardinals, who could wind up anywhere from having homefield throughout the NL playoffs or having to go on the road for a one-game Wild Card game. Wins for St. Louis here would go a long way towards finishing the season as the former instead of the latter.
2) BOS @ LAD (8/23-8/25) – World Series preview? The Red Sox have shown no signs of fading like they did two seasons ago, while the Dodgers are merely 25-4 since the All-Star break, so these teams meeting again in October is by no means an unreasonable expectation. The best part of that potential matchup? How miserable all of the Yankees fans will be watching it.
3) OAK @ BAL (8/23-8/25) – After first getting a crack at the Wild-Card-leading Rays, the O’s then get a visit from the second Wild Card team in the A’s. It’s conceivable that good week could put Baltimore ahead of both teams in this tightly-packed race, but a bad week could do the opposite and really hurt the Orioles playoff chances.
If the playoffs started today…
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Boston Red Sox
3) Texas Rangers
4) Tampa Bay Rays
5) Oakland Athletics
1) Atlanta Braves
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
3) Pittsburgh Pirates
4) St. Louis Cardinals
5) Cincinnati Reds
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