August 16, 2013 was a sad day in the City of Brotherly Love: Charlie Manuel, the revered manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, was relieved of his duties by General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. Charlie had won his career 1,000th victory only days earlier, but the team remained lifeless and finally the change was made. Ironically, the game that night was to be a celebration of that 1,000th win, but instead Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg carried the lineup card out to home plate and there was no honoring of Charlie. The Phillies have offered Charlie a position with the team going forward, but it remains to be seen if Charlie will take it. He will be 70 next season and that’s typically an age when few men still manage, but there could be a job available somewhere, perhaps in Washington where Nationals manager Davey Johnson, himself 70, will step down.
I’m not going to get into the “blame game” that has developed between the Manuel fans who bash Amaro for not giving him the players to win, and those that felt that a change was necessary if not overdue (I myself was ready to see Sandberg take over in the 2012 season after the Phillies disappointing exit from the 2011 playoffs). Charlie as I said is a revered figure in Philadelphia who will never pay for a drink or meal again in the Delaware Valley or where Phillies’ Country congregates.
It is worth noting, however, that the tenor of the team has changed under Sandberg, who came up with the Phillies but staged his Hall of Fame on Chicago’s North Side. Dallas Green, who managed the Phillies to their first World Series Championship, took over as General Manager for the Cubs in 1982 and he worked a deal with Phillies’ GM Paul Owens to swap shortstop Ivan DeJesus for Phillies’ mainstay Larry Bowa. Sandberg was a throw-in, but the shrewd Green picked the Pope’s pocket. When Sandberg was passed over by the Cubs as manager following that 2011 season in favor of Dale Sveum, Cubs fans were outraged (as I went to school in Chicago, I have many friends who follow the Cubbies). Ruben Amaro Jr. swooped in, brought Ryno back into the Candystripers’ fold, and installed him as manager of their AAA team in Lehigh Valley. This season, Sandberg ascended to the big-league dugout as third base coach.
The Phillies have much to do if they are to field a competitive team going forward. They are old at too many positions. Their farm system is rebuilding but is not considered top-notch. Just trying to re-load with free agents is not likely to be productive. They have been less adaptive to the changing statistical analysis evaluations the successful teams now employ.
But they’ve got a fresh face and a new attitude in the dugout, and that’s a start.