Since his firing last week, Charlie Manuel has been celebrated as a martyr by certain segments of the fans and media. Despite being routinely criticized during his tenure (and often mentioned as being part of the problem with the 2013 team), Manuel is now being portrayed as an innocent bystander who has fallen victim to the mistakes made by the team’s front office.
I’ll start by saying that Manuel deserves much of the praise he has received. He presided over a great era in Phillies history and will likely be regarded as the team’s greatest manager ever. But amidst the celebration of his career, people seem to be forgetting that he had flaws as a manager. Ironically many of the people who are incredulous over his firing are the same people who criticized his poor game management, or the way he continually placed Ryan Howard in the cleanup spot against left-handed pitchers.
Manuel himself seems to be contributing to the martyrdom. During a recent interview by Leslie Gudel of CSNPhilly.com, he was asked if he thought the Phillies had the pieces necessary to compete the past two seasons. He replied that they did not:
Start of the season, both years…Spring Training….I always figured we’d add the pieces and things like that…I knew if we started the season with this team that somewhere along the lines we were going to improve it. And if you remember those years, there were a lot of those years where we definitely did all that. They always went out and they always got pieces and they always put them on our team and gave us a good opportunity to win. They put us in a good position to win…it was up to us to do that.
I am slightly confused by what Manuel is trying to say. Did he feel that he wasn’t put in a good enough position to win the past couple of seasons? Or is he saying that the team’s disappointing performance didn’t give the front office a chance to make a move?
Either way, I think Manuel is using a bit of revisionist history here. In 2012, the team was returning the core from a 102-win season. While they were missing both Howard and Chase Utley in Spring Training, it seems odd that Manuel wouldn’t have thought they were good enough. I can understand that he’s a little upset about his firing right now, but comments like that make him seem unnecessarily bitter.
As for the notion that Manuel’s firing was him being made a scapegoat for this season’s failures, I don’t think that is the case. There was speculation that the team was ready for a change regardless of how well this season turned out. Manuel didn’t have a contract beyond the season, and when the team made Ryne Sandberg the third base coach, it wasn’t too difficult to see which way the wind was blowing.
Roy Halladay’s recent comments are telling. The consensus seems to be that a sense of complacency and stagnation has set in among the Phillies veterans. (Jimmy Rollins, anyone?) While it is ultimately up to the players to play hard, doesn’t the manager have to accept some responsibility for that?
The complaints about complacency are nothing new. As far back as 2010, there were whispers that the Phillies had lost their edge, and that some of the veterans didn’t have the same fire. Back then, the team was able to overcome any complacency thanks to the sheer amount of talent they had on hand. Those days are sadly over.
Maybe the core of this team had simply been around Manuel for too long. After how many repetitions do motivational techniques grow ineffective? Perhaps after a long enough times, malapropisms stop being seen as charming.
I also wonder if Manuel’s management style may have hindered the development of some of the younger players. Would Dom Brown have gotten more of a chance to succeed in 2011 under a different manager? Would the team’s young relievers – some of whom were highly touted - have struggled as much with a manager who could utilize them more optimally?
The next year will be very telling. Sandberg has come in talking a big game about changing the team’s approach, but we’ll see if anything actually improves.
In the end, I think it’s important to remember that Manuel is not an innocent victim. While he was far from the biggest problem with the team, when the 2013 season is finally put to rest, Manuel will have some blood on his hands as well.
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