Saturday, August 17, 2013

Charlie Manuel Will Live On, Probably In a Better Condition Than The Phillies

This isn't a eulogy for Charlie Manuel.

Charlie didn't die. He knows what death is because he went nose-to-nose with it when his colon considered handing in its resignation to him more than a decade ago. He rejected that notion, because Charlie Manuel doesn't quit anything, and he sure as hell isn't going to let any of his major organs get away with it, no matter how much abuse he put them through while mashing baseballs as a fiery, young ballplayer on both sides of the Pacific.

Charlie Manuel is a manager. He might not be the manager of the Phillies any longer, but he isn't out to own any job descriptions that involve "special," or "senior," or "assistant." If the job doesn't have "manager" or "coach" in the title, he will pass. He won't be one of those old guys who shows up at spring training for a week or two in uniform to serve as a living statue of nostalgia for those in the stands. When he was a coach and manager in Cleveland, Hall of Famer Bob Feller used to put on that octogenarian dog-and-pony show every spring training in Winter Haven, Fla. To Charlie, that was about as relevant to the work at hand as Max Patkin's act, and he didn't have time for that baloney. (Speaking of which, Charlie had a more serious bone to pick with Feller, but that is one of countless confidential stories that makes you leave a rap session with Chuck grateful your ears were there to pay witness.)

The 2013 Phillies have been a disaster, and there were pretty clear signs of the mess in spring training. The ridiculous attempt to create a false narrative about Roy Halladay ignored clear-cut signs that the veteran pitcher needed surgery. Instead of that happening, say, March 1, and offering him a chance to make a comeback in the second half of the season with a repaired shoulder, Halladay will make a so-what September return for a team that wins once a week. It was every bit as short-sighted and overly deferential to a player because of "He's A Veteran Syndrome" as the Chase Utley/Ryan Howard mess the previous spring. The consequences in Halladay's case still aren't as damning as the haunting decision to push Howard back onto the field for the second half of 2012 with a atrophied leg and unsightly gait following his Achilles' tendon reconstruction. That not only resulted in Howard returning to the field a shell of himself, but it likely inflicted the damage to his knee that left him wounded this season and in need of more leg surgery. As much as everyone likes to assume Howard's natural hitting skills have eroded, the fact that he hasn't been permitted to heal properly and be in a physical condition to prove otherwise has been a crime by the organization that has devastated the offense.

The bullpen. The bullpen. When you have reached the final week of spring training and not one of your young arms - and there were a half-dozen of them in camp - has done a single thing to stand out as a reliable relief pitcher, that is not an unfortunate coincidence. That is a sign that, if you plan on competing, you need to find a trade for a veteran reliever who has shown dependability, and make it fast. The Angels, who aren't exactly a shining example of front-office acumen, got Dane De La Rosa (5-1, 3.62 ERA in 55 games)  from the Rays a few days before the season for a younger, borderline big-league reliever named Steve Geltz, who is from a similar prospect realm as the half-dozen guys who weren't cutting it in camp. So they were out there. They did nothing about it, instead handing the ball to a gaggle young pitchers who did not earn their keep in what was supposed to be a heated spring competition.

The Nate Scheirholtz-versus-Laynce Nix debacle is well chronicled. The Phillies have been willing to throw tens of millions of dollars at guys who have almost no shot of earning their keep in the sunsets of those contracts, yet their sphincters get tight over the thought of shrugging off $1.35 million poorly spent on a fifth outfielder. It's pound-dumb, penny-moronic.

No manager was turning what Charlie Manuel was given into anything more than it turned out to be. Veterans like Jimmy Rollins are too smart for their own good sometimes. If you can evaluate the situation when Michael Martinez is still getting big-league opportunities and Phillippe Aumont - the most obviously messed-in-the-head pitcher the Phillies have employed since Joe Cowley - actually gets called back to the majors after stinking it up for the Phils, then stinking it up for Lehigh Valley, don't you think Rollins does? Don't you think that Rollins' lack of hustle is an act of physical preservation from a guy who knows this team isn't winning anything? Jimmy Rollins is a baseball player, but he's also a businessman. If one of the singers he has signed to his label is playing a show in front of 500 people in Reno tonight, but a crowd of 15,000 in Vegas the following night, do you think he wants that singer to put her vocal chords on full-blast for that show in front of 500?

That isn't making an excuse for Rollins, it's trying to open a door to his soul.

Almost everyone knows Ruben Amaro Jr. is the one who let this team down. Even Ruben Amaro knows it. The problem is this: David Montgomery is the person who has to judge Amaro's performance, and since it doesn't seem the general manager is going to lose his job, it means Montgomery has to judge Amaro's plan to fix this mess. And, frankly, that isn't David Montgomery's strength. Dallas Green is a wonderful baseball guy, but the art of running an organization has changed a lot since his full-time days doing it. Ed Wade actually helped the Phillies get to their glory days, but he is a strip-it-down-and-start-over specialist working as an adviser for a team pot-committed to reloading.

There is one guy employed by the Phillies with the credentials to listen to Amaro's plan and give it a brutally honest assessment. That is Pat Gillick. And if Pat doesn't want his legacy sullied by having "he told the Phillies to hire Ruben Amaro Jr. as his successor, and that was a disaster" as his final act, then he better give Amaro some good advice.

As for Charlie, maybe he'll get a big-league gig managing next year, maybe not. He has a huge supporter in Jayson Werth in D.C., but the Nationals would be trading one 70-year-old manager for another. That would be strange. However, the Nats have this undeniable love of tweaking the Phillies, and what better way than to have Manuel in the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park with Bryce Harper at his disposal?

If Charlie doesn't get a job as a manager in the majors, an organization would do themselves well to ask if he'll manage a Double-A team. Maybe his good friend Jim Leyland gets an opening on his staff for him. What seems certain is Charlie won't warm up to becoming a relic whose opinions are politely and lightly taken a senior special adviser assistant emeritus blah blah blah.

That sounds like zombie work, and Charlie Manuel ain't dead.

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