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Was Charlie Manuel firing a blessing in disguise?


A couple evenings ago, I was discussing the Charlie Manuel firing with a friend and expressed my honest opinion at the time. “Firing Charlie—even in the clumsy way that the Phillies did it—may have been the best thing for him.” 

In the meantime, I’ve thought about this a little more, and now would add, “Hey, this may have been the best thing for the team as well.” 

No, neither of these thoughts was influenced by the Phillies’ string of exciting walk-off wins—the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. Admittedly, though this is garbage time, it does the heart some good to see the boys showing some life.  But, it’s not really all about the few extra victories they may be accruing under Ryne Sandberg that may not have been achieved under Manuel’s continued regime.Photo: phildelphia.cbslocal.com

My thought also wasn’t influenced by anything resembling ill will toward Charlie, who has only had one losing season—this one— among his nine campaigns in South Philly.

And, let me add one more disclaimer of sorts: I stand by my initial reaction that the Phillies—courtesy of General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.—owed Charlie Manuel better than to give him his pink slip with 42 games left in the season.

Didn’t the Phillies owe Manuel—who piloted the club to five straight division titles, two World Series appearances and that one awesome parade—the chance to play out the string? Wouldn’t the Phillies fans still want to show some appreciation for the man who presided over the greatest period of sustained excellence in this tortured franchise’s modern history?

Well, yes, and yes. But, it’s not quite that simple.

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Outside of the above considerations, the 2013 Phillies were, to be kind, in quite a tailspin when Amaro pulled the trigger on Charlie. They were 53-67, 20 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves (who have suffered tough injuries of their own this year) and the worst team in baseball since the All-Star Break.

Wasn’t it a foregone conclusion that Manuel had become the ultimate lame duck, with almost no chance of returning to manage the club for a tenth season? And wasn’t it a poorly kept secret that Sandberg was in wait to take the reigns in 2014? How many of you—barring a miracle stretch of baseball that would have transformed this team into the 1927 Yankees or even the 2011 Phillies—would have opposed this inevitable move?

If you follow this premise, then the question becomes: Could Manuel have done anything in those final 42 games to preserve his job? While it’s speculative, the strong suspension is No, this season was a lost cause. 

While I do not question that Charlie would’ve given what amounted to garbage time his best effort, there wouldn’t be much reason for a suddenly success-spoiled Phillies Nation to tune in. Way back when, it might have been cool to see the 1986 Phillies spoil the juggernaut New York Mets’ division celebration, but this nucleus of players and manager had achieved so much more than that bunch. Would there be any value of seeing this lethargic squad pile up more losses just so the knowledgeable fan base could give their beloved manager a nice sendoff before piloting the club to season-ending series in Miami and Atlanta?

Do I need to answer that…Ruben Amaro Jr.

Admittedly, the way the firing was handled smacked of a Phillies franchise that, just yesterday, seemed to always say and do the wrong things. During that postseason drought between 1993 and 2007, Bill Giles once grumbled that the Phillies were a “small-market team.”

On a more serious note, perhaps you recall how the Phillies responded with blatant insensitivity after pitcher Brett Myers was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife in Boston. That was in 2006, the year before the franchise put together five straight NL East titles, and also seemed to get almost everything right—on the field and off.

This latest PR bath was a temporary black eye for the Phillies, but perhaps the best thing for Charlie Manuel. The move made Manuel an even more sympathetic figure to fans, and served to focus all of the disappointment and wrath on Amaro. (This may be worthy of its own separate column, but I am of the opinion that Amaro deserves to both have a short leash and take the heat for this move.  I also can’t kill him for his overall record as the team’s GM.)

While we mourn for Charlie, we should also celebrate all that he brought to this franchise, and to this town. We came to love him, even if he was not the best game-day manager we’ve ever seen. Obviously, his players loved him…still do…and he did a lot of things right over the years to engender that kind of respect and love. I have yet to hear a bad word about Charlie (the man) from any fan, and it’s clear that Manuel loves baseball, loves the Philadelphia region and loves Phillies fans.  Those are three terrific reasons that he should be adored in this town for eternity.

Yes, all that, and helping us become the World Champions of Baseball and getting us our first major professional championship in 25 years. Of course, coaching and managing us to a world championship is not exactly an annual occurrence around these parts. In the last 45 years, the only other men who could claim such status are Fred Shero (twice), Dallas Green and Billy Cunningham. Ouch!

So, Charlie will be okay, and while it would probably be a dream to have him associated with this franchise in another capacity, it would also be nice to see him stay in the game—even if elsewhere. And, he should get a special night at Citizens Bank Park next year and receive an even stronger ovation than he would have received on September 22, 2013 (had he managed out the string). One other silver lining is that Manuel was able to notch his 1,000th career win (counting his stint in Cleveland), becoming only the 60th manager in the history of the game to do so.

As for the franchise, why not use these last 40 or so games to give Sandberg some seasoning, and get a closer look at Darin Ruf, Cody Asche and company? It’s way too early to reach any definitive conclusions, but so far, so good.

That’s another reason that I stand by my point. The clumsy, seemingly unfair canning of Charlie Manuel may have been the best thing for Charlie, the fans and the franchise as a whole.

For Ruben Amaro, Jr?  Not so much.

Matt Goldberg, co-author of A Snowball’s Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media has written hundreds of sports articles for Philly2Philly, his own blog and other sites in the last few years. More information on his books, writings, speaking and customized services can be found via http://tipofthegoldberg.com/

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Thumbmail: Sports Illustrated/AP

Article photo: philadelphia.cbslocal.com 

Amaro/Manuel photo: zimbio.com