Some Thoughts on Charlie Manuel’s Ouster

Most of the immediate reactions I’ve seen from Phillies fans to the end Charlie Manuel‘s tenure have been emotional. And rightly so–Manuel is the most decorated manager in Phillies history and one of the most beloved figures in local sports. The man who orchestrated his removal, Ruben Amaro, is…well, not universally reviled, but not the most popular person either. It’s a sports story with an easy good guy and a bad guy, where the good guy shuffles off into the sunset with his Wawa bag.

I don’t want to look at it that way. Rationally, was this the right thing to do?

  • Charlie Manuel’s contract was going to run out at the end of the season. He’ll be 70 years old by next Opening Day. That’s retirement age for a manager. Casey Stengel was fired by the Yankees at 70. Joe Torre retired at 70. Tommy Lasorda retired at 69. Tony La Russa retired at 67, Bobby Cox at 69. Nationals manager Davey Johnson, 70, is going to retire at the end of the season…you don’t undertake a rebuild with a manager in his 70s. The end of Manuel’s contract would have given him and the Phillies a way to terminate his career amicably, maybe moving him into an emeritus role in the front office if he wanted to. Manuel should never have been the Phillies’ manager in 2014. Not because he’s not capable, but because it’s a convenient place to turn the page–this is going to be a new team and should be built under new leadership.

This is where it gets tricky–Amaro told Manuel that his contract wouldn’t be renewed, and obviously there was some sort of shared decision not to have Manuel continue in a lame duck role. (Manuel’s comments about “I didn’t resign and I did not quit” I take in a more general sense, meaning that he’d have returned next season if he were wanted.)

From Ryan Lawrence’s story on Philly.com:

“And so Amaro informed Manuel that the Phillies would not be renewing his contract for the 2014 season. After some more discussion, Amaro told Manuel, the winningest manager in club history, that he would be immediately replaced from his position.”

That “some more discussion” is the whole story, and within that discussion is the key to whether or not this is a smart move. At some point, Amaro had to stop stringing Manuel along and level with him about whether he’d be around next year. I would assume that the scenario I mentioned above–Manuel’s retirement, followed by his promotion to Special Assistant to the GM or some such position–was discussed, and Manuel turned it down. Somehow, Amaro and Manuel reached the decision where the final year of Manuel’s tenure would be cut short. But how much of that decision was Amaro’s, and how much was Manuel’s, is very important. Here’s why:

  • If Manuel’s out now because he didn’t want to be a lame duck manager, I don’t know what else could be done. I certainly wouldn’t blame him for not wanting to sit around for his own funeral. And given that, Sandberg, long declared Manuel’s heir presumptive, is the most logical choice to replace him, the Phillies made the most logical decision.
  • If Manuel’s out now because Amaro encouraged him to fall on his own sword, that I find kind of inexplicable. I’m ordinarily not one to cry foul over norms in baseball, but the season’s already lost–if Manuel had wanted to play out the string, the Phillies should have let him play out the string and go out with a little more dignity. Canning a manager with Manuel’s track record, with a team in this position and in a season this dead and buried, just seems bizarre. What could possibly be gained by firing Manuel now? Is he going to stunt the development of young players in six weeks, in such a way that Ryne Sandberg wouldn’t? Would he have sowed discontent among the players? Most importantly–is 42 games enough to evaluate a first-time manager like Sandberg, gaining any useful information to how he’d run a ballclub going forward? Of course not, particularly considering that if Sandberg’s smart, he’ll use what he learns in the coming weeks to alter his approach for next season, if the interim tag is dropped.

If Manuel was truly forced out, that’s troublesome for two reasons:

  • It would be a panic move and a gross misreading of public perception by Amaro. Deciding to get a head start on Sandberg speaks to a desire to change the narrative, to squeeze out a season that ends a little closer to .500 perhaps. This could be the first sign of trouble for Amaro.
  • It hands the job to Sandberg.

It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if Sandberg had been named Manuel’s successor anyway, but giving him the job now, as opposed to in the offseason, signals a commitment to a plan that was put in place almost three years ago, with no re-evaluation of the data. An offseason search, even if Sandberg was declared the leader in the clubhouse, would have allowed the Phillies to at least look around and see if Dave Martinez (or DeMarlo Hale, or Manny Acta, or John McLaren or whoever the Phillies chose to interview) would’ve been a better option. After being groomed to manage the Phillies for three years (and the Cubs for some time before that), Sandberg would pretty much have to stab Ethan Martin in the neck in order not to get the interim tag taken off come October.

It’s the same principle as the Ryan Howard contract–making a commitment before you have to and cutting off your options without gaining a significant advantage in return. Who knows? Maybe Sandberg will be great. I hope he is. But I fear that the only reason everyone got so excited about Sandberg being installed as manager-in-waiting is that the Phillies are still smarting from trading him at the start of a Hall of Fame career 30 years ago. And that his return as manager will somehow smooth over that memory. I might be wrong, but I can’t shake the thought.

But that’s why it’s so important to know how and why Manuel left. Because if he was forced out now, instead of at the end of the season, and instead of choosing to leave on his own terms, Amaro had best be absolutely certain that Sandberg is not only the most convenient successor, but the right one.

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32 comments

  1. Garrigus Carraig

    August 16, 2013 10:04 PM

    “But I fear that the only reason everyone got so excited about Sandberg being installed as manager-in-waiting is that the Phillies are still smarting from trading him at the start of a Hall of Fame career 30 years ago. And that his return as manager will somehow smooth over that memory.” — That was exactly my thought.

  2. Murph

    August 16, 2013 10:58 PM

    It may very well be a bad decision to hire Sandberg now, but I can’t believe it had something to do with a bad trade the Phils made over 30 years ago when Amaro was in high school. In actuality, I suspect Amaro is treating this as a genuine evaluation. That worries me because my sense is Sandberg was a sure thing to replace Manuel at the end of the season, and now, after watching him up close,Amaro isn’t so sure. But if Amaro doesn’t bring him on next year, he will get killed for setting Sandberg up to fail. They should have let Charlie finish out the season.

  3. BobSmith77

    August 17, 2013 05:13 AM

    What leads you to think Sandberg will be automatically hired? Amaro went out of his way to say he was the ‘interim manager’ and mentioned that there will be an extensive search this offseason for a manager who ‘understands what the FO is trying to do.’

    Far from rubber stamping Sandberg as the heir apparent.

  4. Cory

    August 17, 2013 08:28 AM

    “Understands what the FO is trying to do..” Oh god, our next manager is going to be Ruben Amaro

  5. JayZeeBee

    August 17, 2013 08:37 AM

    @Cory – OR, maybe it means.. “Shit we need someone in here who understands what we are trying to do, because we sure as hell don’t.”

  6. amarosucks

    August 17, 2013 09:48 AM

    I feel bad for sandberg. As long as Ruben Minaya Jr is around, he has no shot of being successful in the managerial role.

    Bottom line is that the phillies are a horrible franchise from top to bottom. They need a thorough org cleaning, from top to bottom.

  7. GWB

    August 17, 2013 09:50 AM

    Plenty of blame to go around here…Manuel certainly has managerial and attitudinal flaws that have contributed to the state of the team now.

    His public snipes about personnel, the lackadaisical play/attitude of the players and the total lack of accountability allowed by Manuel especially for vets have all gotten worse over the years.

    Amaro/Monty & Co. have been shown again to be mostly inept and backward in their approach to roster construction, player evaluation, talent acquisition and planning for this transition…they went all-in starting in 2009, mortgaged the future and then waited far too long to start re-tooling the roster, re-stocking the farm and avoiding the consequences of such short term thinking…

    The players, especially the vets, need to get their head out of their rear ends and start playing with more committment and professionalism..I understand their skills are diminished and thus we cannot expect past production to continue, but the way they have abdicated responsibility during this slide and mailed it in is bad…

  8. D. Rue

    August 17, 2013 10:16 AM

    How classless! Would the Braves have done this to Bobby Cox? The answer is obvious. You let Charlie finish the season. Let him get some tribute at home before the end and let some of the other teams and peers in the league congratulate him as well. Five divisions, two World Series appearances including a championship and most wins in Phillies history and this is the way the organization says goodbye???? Reuben has no class whatsoever. He isn’t half the man Charlie is…nor will he ever be.

  9. Taco

    August 17, 2013 10:46 AM

    @ D. Rue

    Did you read the article? It is entirely possible that RAJ offered Charlie the chance to finish the season, but Charlie was not interested.

  10. DEW

    August 17, 2013 11:01 AM

    Certainly, Manuel deserves some of the blame; there have been poor decisions made all year, including in the use of the bullpen and young players, but at the same time the poor decisions of the front office have handicapped him. Unless it comes out that Manuel went to RAJ and said, “Get on out there and bring me Delmon and Michael Young; they’re what this team really needs! And I really liked what they’ve been doing in Anaheim, so lock us into more contracts with veterans until they’re pushing 40, too!” then I’m going to see him more as a victim of circumstance than anything else.

  11. WayneKerrins

    August 17, 2013 01:48 PM

    40 games to see how he constructs line ups, rotates the roster, manages games and leads the players. I’d say that’s meaningful.

  12. joecatz

    August 17, 2013 03:41 PM

    “40 games to see how he constructs line ups, rotates the roster, manages games and leads the players. I’d say that’s meaningful.’

    otherwise known as to how many ways can we get John McDonald, Michael MArtinez and Casper Wells at bats…

    you need a roster and live uninjured major league players for that to make any sense.

  13. Lena Matthews

    August 17, 2013 03:53 PM

    Place the blame on mediocre playing from our untouchables, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, John Mayberry, Ruiz, an unbelievably poor bullpen that would put any team in a death rattle.

  14. Lena Matthews

    August 17, 2013 03:54 PM

    Place the blame on mediocre playing from our untouchables, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, John Mayberry, Ruiz, an unbelievably poor bullpen that would put any team in a death rattle. They were poison.

  15. V frankowski

    August 17, 2013 04:06 PM

    Here we go ,it will take more than a new manager to get this team going,Phillies upper management is a disgrace in the way they handled the Charlie Manuel firing ,what a low class move!

  16. Chris

    August 17, 2013 04:53 PM

    I hope this firing and the fact that there have been no trades made, means that Amaro is not making the decisions and upper management is in control. Amaro trade record is horrible and he most likely would have made the current situation worse. I see it as Amaro is out at the end of the year and upper management is setting up the team for a house cleaning at the end of the year. This will allow the new management to come in and make the decisions on how the team moves forward.

  17. Chris

    August 17, 2013 04:58 PM

    AMARO MUST GO next. Can anyone tell me what he has done since Gillick handed him a World Series team with a great farm system?

  18. Jeff

    August 17, 2013 08:55 PM

    Eagles, Sixers, now it’s the Phillies turn to clean house and start over

  19. Mark

    August 17, 2013 09:53 PM

    Please get rid, give away, trade the whole bullpen with the exception of Papelbon.

  20. RR

    August 18, 2013 05:58 AM

    The team more or less decided for the FO by “mailing it in” for weeks, squabbling amongst themselves, letting their feelings be known to the media, etc. The LAD announcers even singled out Rollins, saying he shows up late and Manuel looks the other way, not what you want with young players around. Manuel’s vaunted people skills were unable to control the situation. Time for a change. The team plays like crap, the fans start to bail and this is what you get. Anyway, it was Amaro crying, not Manuel.

  21. Steve

    August 18, 2013 10:51 AM

    Ryno can be proud to know the Phillies are the ML League Leaders in negative run diff just two games into his short stint as ML Manager. If he’s smart, he’ll finish this season and run like hell if offered the loser position of Phillies Manager 2014. Will we soon pass the Marlins and take over the race to the #1 draft pick? I am all for winning that honor!

  22. John

    August 18, 2013 11:23 AM

    It is time to “GO FURTHER TO THE TOP”! Time also for a new GM, not just the manager. Jimmy Rollins is supposed to be the veteran leader of the team, and he goes on record saying I don’t want to be traded so I can SET TEAM RECORDS! not win another World Series but HIS OWN RECORDS! That is the example you want your younger players exposed to? STOP PLAYING HIM AND BENCH HIM and let him set a record for “sitting the bench!” Force him to ask to be traded. And Ryan Howard EAT THE MAJORITY OF HIS CONTRACT and let him go to the American League to be a DH. It would be better for him and the Phillies. Turn the page! Thanks Charlie, Ryan and Jimmy for the past 6+ years but it is time for all of us to move on.
    Ruben Amaro doesn’t have the guts or foresight to “turn the page” on the team. I agree with another email, he has done nothing since being turned over the reigns from Pat Gillick.

  23. Phillie697

    August 18, 2013 06:48 PM

    I am going to go against the grain and say that I do think RAJ did this so that he can “evaluate” Sandberg for the rest of the season. I do think he thinks there is enough to be gleamed from 40 games for him to have an impression of whether Ryno is the guy.

    Remember, this is a guy who fancies himself as being knowledgeable about baseball. Is it any surprise that he thinks he can figure out who is a good manager in 40 games? I don’t think this means Ryno is the guy in October. I do think RAJ genuinely want to evaluate Ryno. In fact, I really do view this as RAJ having second thoughts about Ryno, and perhaps even setting him up for failure so that he can go and find someone else.

    “Ryno can be proud to know the Phillies are the ML League Leaders in negative run diff just two games into his short stint as ML Manager.”

    Yeah, no. Phillies are the worst team run-differential-wise in the NATIONAL League. They have a LONG ways to go to be the ML leader, as Astros probably had that locked up 2 months ago.

  24. hk

    August 18, 2013 07:20 PM

    2 games plus filling out the lineup for his 3rd games was enough of a trial for me. I don’t like when managers bat back-ups in the same spot as the starter they’re replacing. I’m incredulous when that back-up is Micahel Martinez and he bats in the lead-off spot.

  25. hk

    August 19, 2013 05:35 AM

    Scott G,

    My only question after seeing Sandberg take over and bat Utley 3rd and Brown 4th, then batt Michael Martinez lead-off is, when do you start your new blog?

  26. Scott G

    August 19, 2013 05:35 AM

    I second that hk. Also, unless you’re sure to be signing a RF I’m the offseason, having Brown LF, Ruf RF, and Mayberry 1B is kind of insane.

  27. Scott G

    August 19, 2013 05:47 AM

    Not pinching hitting Rollins for Hamels is unacceptable. Hamels bunting is expected. Hamels bunting to advance the runner for Michael Martinez is insane.

  28. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2013 05:50 AM

    It interests me to see that when Ryno makes out a lineup card, starting with a whacko selection for the lead-off spot, he gets (deservedly) jumped all over for that.

    Manuel, on the other hand, was fomenting nonsense like that, almost daily, for eight seasons, yet so many people are “emotional” and “upset” as regards the situation surrounding his “untimely” departure.

    How can people see the flaws in others they completely missed in Manuel? It’s crazy.

  29. hk

    August 19, 2013 06:03 AM

    Robby,

    I think batting Michael Martinez in the lead-off spot may be the worst move I have seen from a Phillies manager in quite some time. Yes, I know that Charlie pulled a pitcher in a game at Washington before the Nats announced their PH thereby allowing the Nats to save that PH for later in the game when he eventually drove in the winning run, but that mistake was more of a spur of the moment one. Setting the line-up is something that the manager has a lot of time to think and re-think about. Charlie managed Michael Martinez in 151 games and only batted him lead-off once and if I remember correctly it was early in Martinez’s tenure here. Sandberg, with the benefit of many more career PA’s to know how bad Martinez is, batting him lead-off in just his 3rd game as manager is truly incredible. This guy’s been watching this team all season and hopefully, as the ship started to sink, thinking about what he might do differently. If the best he can come up with is having Michael Martinez hit lead-off, here’s hoping this is just a 42 game trial.

  30. vweaver

    August 19, 2013 08:44 AM

    Why now? The question is, why not SOONER? This team quit on Manuel months ago. 6-21 since the break. It just took management this long to realize that they might as well get a look at how Sandberg will manage the team. Had they made the change sooner, maybe the Phillies could have had an outside shot at making a run.

  31. Jim

    August 21, 2013 02:48 PM

    I personally think that any manager that does not adapt his style to what he has available is a crappy manager.

    I can not imagine a scenario where Rollins leads off … unless there is literally zero other players left on the roster. Sit the dude .. he is struggling; if not sit him .. for crying out loud move him down to 7 or 8. If Rollins wants to cry about it .. who cares. Easy answer .. you want higher in the line-up? Perform better.

    At this time, Rollins OBP as a lead-off hitter is 7th worst (from the bottom of the list .. not the top!) … in all of baseball (min 75 PA)

    As a 3-hole, he is next to last in all of baseball for SLG (again, min 75 PA)

    Or if Howard cannot hit a left-hander to save his life .. why not ***gasp*** pinch hit for him late in games.

    Dont get me wrong, I think Amaro creates alot of this .. but you have to play the hand you’re dealt. And even if they players arent performing to their potential, then make changes to get more from what you have.

    Its just pathetic. As a fan, I am maddened by a lack of player accountability .. and in my mind .. its the manager’s job to make that happen. Not that a manager is all the difference, but they shouldnt be part of the problem.

    I really hope that Rollins never sees lead-off again until he can perform that way. And I’ve seen that Rollins has been leading off since Sandberg has taken the reigns … so .. nothing new yet.

  32. Robby Bonfire

    August 22, 2013 11:11 PM

    I did read somewhere that Sandburg “wants Rollins to work the count and take more walks.” That ranks up there with wanting a late-career Alan Iverson to start dishing off to his teammates, instead of playing his patented “Mr. Selfish” game of consistently disproportionate missed shots, relative to points actually scored.

    Rollins leading off is forcing a square peg into a round hole. Disappointed with Ryno that he thinks the career-disintegrating Rollins will suddenly find a new lease on life and start putting the team ahead of his Phillies Pantheon career offensive totals.

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