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From Befuddled To Beloved - The Story of Charlie Manuel

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In the Fall of 2004, many people were jaw boning about how Jim Leyland wasCharlie Manuel at the 2010 Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. Photo: Joe Vallee Sr. the right man to replace Larry Bowa as the Phillies next skipper. Leyland then interviewed in Philadelphia for the open managerial post. Let's rewind to those reactionary times in the early to mid-2000's.

Many felt that Leyland, the World Series winning manager for the Marlins and three-time NL East Champion manager of the Pirates, was the right man for the job. We even heard rumors that he had audaciously told the Phillies management what players he wanted to get rid of. Fight the man Jim!

By now the fans had started boycotting management by not buying tickets. Some fans who did go to games would often vent their frustration by chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” This was the backlash of many losing, and/or inconsistent, seasons. Those displays also helped to keep the Philadelphia fan's “undeserved” national reputation shining brightly.

Back in those days, Charles Fuqua Manuel, Jr. could be seen standing around the batting cage. He was playing “Drama” to Jim Thome's “Vince” in the Philly version of “Entourage,” or something close to it. Manuel must have been the pity hire that Thome required the Phillies bring along with him from Cleveland. Maybe Chuck even drove the truck from Ohio when “Big Jim” moved East.

Then it was learned that this Gomer Pyle was part of a group that was interviewing to be the next manager. There was no way his credentials could stack up against Leyland. What had Manuel ever accomplished? And what does Fuqua mean anyway?

At that time, signing Thome was seen as General Manager Ed Wade's only good move. So who knew what direction he might go in when replacing Bowa. Many of Wade's boo birds didn't admit, or know, that he had also been leading the reseeding efforts of the organization's minor league garden. Ironically, this was prominently mentioned by the ever-classy, former GM Pat Gillick as he was interviewed the night the Phillies won the National League pennant in 2008. Of course, Gillick's own job performance fully confirmed that Wade was more properly suited for a position lower than general manager.

So, it was announced on November 4, 2004 that a team who had not won the World Series since 1980 and had dumped old friend Larry Bowa, hired Manuel!

What were they thinking? The only good years Manuel had in Cleveland happened because of a killer lineup. Moreover, Manuel was exactly the sort of company guy that Wade had been.

As the next season began, everyone's fears seemed to come true. Manuel was baffled by simple moves like the double-switch. He also had an unimpressive physical presence and wasn't a smooth talker. Sports radio shows and newspapers (remember them) portrayed him as nothing more than a befuddled buffoon, with many fans loudly singing in that chorus.

Charlie Manuel didn't have the fire of Larry Bowa, or the impressive demeanor of Dallas Green. He didn't have a national reputation. Time has proven that he didn't have a good initial collection of supporting coaches either. Over time however, people came to understand that he was much more than what he appeared to be.

It is easy to look down on others and not give them a chance to succeed. Many sports personalities have reacted to the excessive pressure this region imposes upon them in a variety of ways. Eric Lindros and Donovan McNabb  being two of the more prominent examples.

Middle class employees, who comprise most of the fan base, also feel that their talents aren't appreciated. At the same time, they only have to deal with annoying co-workers, customers, and rough bosses. Manuel faced unrelenting public assaults. He responded by showing up for work every day. Traits of toughness, confidence, and leadership became evident.

Thome had known who he was. The much maligned Phillies organization had given him a chance to become who he is. Without him, Brad Lidge may have never faced Eric Hinske, or maybe the Phillies wouldn't have ever faced the Rays.

From inside old Veterans Stadium, fans weren't able to see the surrounding landscape. The design limited the entertainment experience and later, the baseball organization's ability to compete. When the current Phillie's manager is inside of Citizens Bank Park, he sees sellout crowds in the stands, the best team he has ever had on the field, and a great view of Philadelphia beyond the outfield walls.

In the most unlikely transformation in Philadelphia sports history, the fans have readjusted their view of Manuel. While passionate, they are also an honest group. They now show respect for someone who has earned every ovation and was not just in the right place at the right time. He has helped to create these times.

Every sell-out crowd can vividly see that Charles F. Manuel, Jr., a leading contender for National League Manager of the Year, is also the heart of this great team.

After college, Sean O'Brien worked in the front office for the Phillies former Triple-A team in Scranton.  He went on to write professionally during the next few decades and is currently a teacher in the great state of Pennsylvania.  He can often be seen, with a variety of family and friends, in one of Philadelphia's great sports stadiums.

You can contact Sean at seanboru68@yahoo.com

Photo: Joe Vallee Sr.- JosephV985@aol.com

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