Is Charlie Manuel on the hot seat in 2012?
You’re the most successful manager in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies and only the second man to ever lead the franchise to a World Series championship. Your team has increased their win total every year for the last five years, but has back tracked in the playoffs each year since raising that banner in October 2008.
It’s hard to imagine that Charlie Manuel could ever be on the ‘hot seat’ in this town, but it’s not unrealistic. After all, the Yankees cut ties with Joe Torre after he won four titles and six pennants. With a payroll ranking only second to the Yankees in Major League Baseball, the Phightins have officially become one of the gold standards in the game (that’s what happens when you win a title, Jeffrey Lurie). With the team consisting mostly of veterans and few youngsters in prominent roles, the pressure to win is growing each season with the window closing on this era of Phillies baseball.
Although it’s easy to forget in the midst of the hurricane that has been the last five years at Citizens Bank Park, it wouldn't be the first time Manuel would be under scrutiny as Spring Training begins in Clearwater. After winning 88 games with his squad in 2005 and just missing the playoffs, the Phillies were maddingly inconsistent in 2006 before finishing strong and losing the Wild Card on the season’s final weekend for the second consecutive year.
And while we're at it, let’s not forget the club’s 3-9 start in 2007, which culminated in Manuel challenging Howard Eskin to a rumble in the Phillies clubhouse.
Fortunately, that season and the ones that followed had the Phillies popping champagne in some capacity, but you could argue that the Phillies’ NL East crown in 2007 saved Manuel’s job. Even at the World Series parade in 2008, Manuel made a point in his speech by saying “I don’t have no damn seconds no more” in response to Phillies CEO Dave Montgomery reminding him how many second place finishes he had prior to 2007.
Yes, 2008 will be the highlight of many of our lives in this town in regards to our sports teams, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Manuel’s Phillies have massively underachieved ever since. This is despite the fact that each Phillies team has won more regular season games than the previous year, due in large part to the surplus of talent that Manuel has been provided. If the team played just a little bit better against the Yankees in 2009, they could have won their return trip to the World Series, 2010 against the Giants was a debacle, and the greatest Phillies team ever assembled bowed out in five games in the NLDS last October, failing to score a single run in the season’s most important game of the year.
Many have questioned Manuel’s batting order, such as why he decided to bat Hunter Pence third in the NLDS when the Phillies’ fifth slot in the lineup was a constant cause for concern all season until after Pence’s arrival. Furthermore, the decision to continue to play Placido Polanco while battling a double hernia in the second half of the year was also a hot topic in the months that followed. Even Ruben Amaro Jr voiced his displeasure with the team’s offensive deficiencies in the days that followed last year’s playoff exit.
Moreover, this inconsistent offense virtually remains unchanged (with the exception of the departed Raul Ibanez and $125 million dollar slugger Ryan Howard returning in May or June). If Manuel is the hitting guru that people claim him to be, why can’t he help turn this around? It cost Milt Thompson his job and Greg Gross obviously hasn't done much better. This is Manuel’s eighth year at the helm. Are the players tuning him out? Or is it simply the fact that at this stage in their careers, they simply can’t or won’t make the necessary adjustments needed to propel the Phillies to their second world championship in five years.
Barring a major injury to one of their starters, the Nationals and Marlins seem to be a year or so away to the point where the Phillies should win their sixth straight NL East crown. If anyone thinks this year will be a cakewalk however, think again. Will Chase Utley regain his batting stroke? Will Howard get his groove back after a brutal achilles injury when he returns? Is the bullpen strong enough? Will it be the same scenario as the last two seasons where the bats go ice cold come playoff time and 100-plus wins means absolutely nothing?
Yes, you have to enjoy the ride because as I said, it can’t go on forever. More and more players from that 2008 squad are moving on or aren’t even playing in the majors anymore. However, if I were the Phillies, the mentality HAS to be World Series win or bust.
Despite the Phillies coming up short in recent years, no other coach amongst the four major teams in this town has raised a trophy other than Manuel since 1983, and the Phillies should let him go out on his own terms. It seems likely that Manuel can squeeze out a another run or two from this Phillies team, so hopefully the powers that be will let him finish the last year of his contract in 2013. It would make perfect sense for Manuel to move up to the front office after he retires from his managerial duties.
But even more importantly, it would be great for him to go out with another parade.
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Contact Joe Vallee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Manuel thumbnail: sports.espn.go.com
Article photo: Photo: phildelphia.cbslocal.com