Phillies' Charlie Manuel Will Bring Second-Straight Division Title

Dan KaneCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2008

I can tell you right now the Phillies will win the NL East.

But it will not be because of their lineup—which is the best in the NL, if not the whole MLB.  And it will not be because the last two NL MVPs were both Phillies.

Also, the reason the Phillies will win the NL East is not because they have three fabulous young pitchers.

(Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Kyle Kendrick, for those who don't know.)

They will win their second consecutive NL East title because of one person: Charlie Manuel.

Now let me tell you, I was never Charlie Manuel's biggest fan.

When the Phillies hired him over Jim Leyland, who had won a World Series as the Marlins' skipper, I was disappointed.  While the Phils could've hired a baseball genius in Jim Leyland, I—and many other fans—believed they just hired some hillbilly moron instead. 

As you can see, his Phillies tenure got off to a rocky start with the local fans and media, and rumors about his job security persisted throughout his first three years as manager.

Many fans were disappointed when his Phillies teams choked at the end of each of his first two seasons.  But his third season, 2007, was his best.  His Phillies started off the season 4-11, and at that time, the question wasn't whether he'd get fired, but when.

But Charlie rallied his team.  April rolled into May and the Phils appeared to be getting back on track. 

Then the team lost reigning NL MVP, Ryan Howard for three weeks.

This was a devastating blow, but Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins carried the team through this.  Everything went smoothly until August, when Utley, the Phillies' All-World second baseman, was lost for a month with a wrist injury.  And he wasn't the only one.

Shane Victorino, the team's right fielder, and Tom Gordon, the Phils' setup man, both were bit with injuries.  It seemed to be catching!

The Phils played well, but on September 13th, they were seven games out of first place, behind the New York Mets.

The magic that ensued cannot truly be described in words.  To prevent a tirade, I'll have to make a long story short: the Mets choked, the Phillies stepped up and won their first division title since 1993.

Throughout this season, there were two common variables for the Phightin' Phils.  First, Jimmy Rollins’ superb play, which earned him NL MVP honors.

The second variable was Charlie Manuel.

I speak for all Phillies fans when I say Manuel isn't the smartest manager in the MLB.  He isn't the best strategist, and he's not the most articulate, shall we say, manager either.  But he knows how to keep a team together.

While Manuel's predecessor, Larry Bowa, was at the helm, bickering and complaining was the club's signature.  Scott Rolen, their All-Star third baseman, demanded a trade due to his distaste for Bowa and the Phillies' lack of commitment to winning.

Players hated Bowa, and his over-the-top style scared away free agents.  When Manuel was hired as manager, this all changed.

Manuel was a father figure to the players, and was beloved by them.  Manuel kept the Phillies together in 2007, while Willie Randolph, the cold-hearted manager of the Mets, screwed his team over with strategy and clubhouse bloopers.

Manuel's paternal presence breathed life into the Phillies, while Randolph's corporate attitude killed the Mets.

The Phillies will repeat their division championship, and it will be because of Manuel's excellent clubhouse management will save the Phils.

Plain and simple, it won't be the Phillies vs. the Mets.  It will be Manuel vs. Randolph.