Philadelphia Phillies' Charlie Manuel: From Hayseed to Hero

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Philadelphia Phillies' Charlie Manuel: From Hayseed to Hero
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The Philadelphia Phillies won another game last night beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-3.  It was their 93rd win of the year.  Roy Halladay was... well Roy Halladay as he allowed only 4 hits, one run and had nine strikeouts through eight innings.  He is now 17-5 with a 2.44 ERA.

Ryan Howard provided almost all the offense the Phillies would need with his three-run home run in the first giving Halladay the lead before he even threw his first pitch.  Howard now has 32 home run and a league-leading 111 RBI.

And Phillies manager Charlie Manuel got his 637th win last night moving him to second place in all-time franchise wins.  Soon he will surpass Gene Mauch, at 646 wins, to become the winningest manager in Phillies history.  And since Phillies wins are becoming as commonplace these days as Cliff Lee shut-outs, today's post is devoted to the unlikely story of the homespun manager who became a hometown hero.  Who woulda thunk it?

Certainly not me.  Although I have long since happily jumped aboard the Charlie Manuel hayride, I mean bandwagon, I was not in favor of his hiring back in 2005.  While I certainly wasn't alone, I am not too proud to admit that I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  So today I issue my personal apology to Charlie Manuel. But first, a look back at how it all started.

At the time I had my reasons.  After all, Charlie was chosen to be the new Phillies manager from a field that included acknowledged baseball genius Jim Leyland (my choice for the job.)  And it didn't help matters that he would be replacing my favorite all-time Phillie, the always-outspoken and too often quick-tempered Larry Bowa who was fired after four relatively successful but tumultuous seasons.  

Bowa's anything to win attitude which fans loved, did not sit well in the Phillies clubhouse, particularly when it involved public criticism of his team.  By the end of the 2004 season things had turned ugly. Disgruntled players complained bitterly both internally and publicly, something had to give and, even after 3 out of 4 winning seasons, Bowa was shown the clubhouse door.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Enter Charlie Manuel.  With his slow West Virginia drawl and laid back style, he was Bowa's opposite in every way.  While Bowa was known as a meticulous student of the game, fans were dumbstruck when it looked like Manuel didn't know how to properly execute a double switch. And his accent and now-familiar stammer made his post game press conferences punch lines for Philadelphia's rabid sports talk radio hosts.  In short, it seemed the tough-minded fans and writers of Philadelphia would eat Charlie alive.

But again I was wrong.

Because just when it seemed like things couldn't possibly get any worse, a funny thing happened. The Phillies started winning.

Manuel's laid back style and overwhelming public and private loyalty to his players did wonders for a Phillies clubhouse formerly filled with bickering and discontent.  The team followed their manager's lead and began to support each other both on and off the field.  They played hard, they played with intensity, they played to win.

And win they did.  637 times as of last night.

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It turns out that this baseball lifer who many wrote off  as just a good old country boy knew more about the game of baseball and the men who play it than any of us gave him credit for.  And while he still may not be the most seasoned at the sound bite, his record speaks for itself.  In his first six seasons as Phillies manager, Manuel has guided his team to the best overall record in the National League.  And that doesn't even count the league-leading 93 wins they have already racked up this year!

But the highlight, of course, was that magical 2008 season when Manuel led the Phillies to their first World Series Championship in 28 years and only the second in franchise history.  At the love fest that followed, no one got a bigger ovation than the man once disparagingly referred to as "Uncle Charlie."

And what did Charlie say at that great moment of personal victory and vindication?  Did he hold a grudge against the city that had disparaged and underestimated him?  The fans who had publicly second-guessed and mocked him from the day he was hired?  Here was his well-deserved "I told you so" moment at last.

Wrong again.

Charlie Manuel grabbed that World Series trophy, held it high for the fans in the stands to see and yelled,

"This is for Philadelphia!  This is for our fans!  I look around here and who's the World Champions?  I thank you!"

No, Charlie.  We thank you.  So I'll finish with the apology I promised at the start.  And this is said with the utmost respect and appreciation.

"Sorry Cholly."

Now get back to work and bring us home another one!  Please?

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