Philadelphia Phillies: Charlie Manuel Not Perfect, but a Perfect Fit in Philly

Ian ThomasCorrespondent IJune 9, 2008

Charlie Manuel isn't a lot of things.

He isn't a man of impressive linguistic skills. They're barely even passable sometimes, especially when he's upset or excited.

He isn't a good public speaker, either.

He isn't really good at diagnosing hit and run situations, or pulling the trigger on a suicide squeeze—a maneuver I wish he'd consider more often.

But it's what Charlie is that's important. Turns out, he's a pretty damn good manager.

Who wasn't skeptical of the bumbling, rotund West Virginian upon his hiring as the Phillies' 51st manager? Yes, the man had two 90-plus win seasons at the helm of the Cleveland Indians—but that was the American League, and the NL was a completely different brand of ball. It didn't feel right.

Yes, he was a prolific hitting instructor, responsible for the growth of several prolific major league hitters—including two notable Phillies sluggers, ex-first baseman Jim Thome and his successor Ryan Howard. But would he still find a way to help the Phillies' young hitters mature at the dish?

And at sixty years old, had the game passed him by?

Well, it wasn't always pretty, but Charlie somehow guided a spunky, streaky Phillies squad to 88 wins and to within a game of the NL wild card in his first year at the helm in 2005.

The next year, he wriggled his way to 85 wins, and fell three games short of the playoffs. With a stellar lineup that boasted rising stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins, and a formidable pitching rotation, fans wondered why he continued to fall short. Hell, Andy Reid could have coached that team to the postseason.

And then Charlie pulled an Andy in '07.

89 wins—and a memorable, catastrophic collapse by a certain overrated team in the Big, the other one—were enough to land the Fightin' Phils in the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Yes, the Phillies fell flat against the Rockies days later, and yes, Charlie deserves some of the blame for that. But to harness the emotion of a ballclub through those last few weeks—Philadelphia won 13 of 17 games down the stretch—is impressive. Charlie didn't always make all the right substitutions or put on the right plays, but his worth came through in the clubhouse.

Today, Manuel's Phillies—and I'm finally completely proud to say they're his—are 39-26. They have a four—yes, four!—game lead on the Florida Marlins in the NL East.

Charlie's substitutions are sharper—finally, he's figured out that Greg Dobbs should pinch hit as much as possible, and Pat Burrell should run the bases as little as possible. His players seem much more relaxed, as evidenced by a slew of come-from-behind victories and late-inning rallies.

You can calculate wins and losses, but numbers won't tell you the effect of a focused manager on a baseball team. Seems that giving dopey Charlie the reigns of the Phillies was a little like handing the keys of your car to a 90-year-old: experience and guile will get him to where he needs to be eventually, even if he's gonna give you a few dents and scratches to deal with.

I'll take the dents and scratches and awkward, stuttering press conferences. Just give me a ring.