Thursday, April 19, 2007


The question is not, “Should the Phillies fire Charlie Manuel?” Phillie fans have answered that question and the answer is, uh, yeah.

The question is not, “When should the Phillies fire Charlie Manuel?” Phillie fans have addressed that one, too, and the answer is, uh, now.

The question is, “Who should the Phillies hire to replace Charlie Manuel?”

In figuring out what traits his replacement should possess, it’s important to ask one more question: “What’s the worst thing about Charlie Manuel?” I know, it’s a tough one. It’s kind of like saying, "What was worst day during the Siege of Stalingrad?" Or, “What was your least favorite thing about the Great Depression?” Or, “What’s the most annoying thing about watching an NBA game announced by Bill Walton?” But, considering the team he’s managing, I think I’ve figured out what Manuel is most obviously lacking: the ability to mentally prepare a squad for competition. In more colloquial terms, a little get up and go.

Think of the Eagles.

I know, it’s nice to do that, isn’t it?

Anyway, think of the Eagles. Is Andy Reid a tough guy, like Bill Parcells? Is he a manic football head, like John Gruden? Is he a nutty professor, like Bill Belichick? No, of course he’s none of these things. He’s a likable and level-headed football coach who seems to get along with any football player not named Terrell. And he wins. The point is, the Eagles don’t need a disciplinarian. They don’t need a hothead, and they don’t need an eccentric. Even under the seemingly gentle leadership of a guy like Reid, they’re ready to play. There’s a complex answer to why, I’m sure, but I’ll give you the simple answer: Brian Dawkins. He’s not the only Eagle who knows how to get excited for a game, but there is no player in professional sports who can set a tone more authoritatively than BDawk.

Do the Phillies have a similar player?

I love the way he talked trash before this season, and I love the way he’s playing right now, but unfortunately JRoll is not BDawk. Jimmy Rollins’s words and actions—as good as they are—are simply not heating the team up. For all of his get up and go, the team ain’t getting, and the team ain’t going, and they haven't done so in the early part of any season since Charlie Manuel came to town.

Ryan Howard is a huge talent, one of the biggest in the Major Leagues, but so far in his career he seems a quiet guy who likes to do what he does. Chase Utley has a bright future ahead of him, but at least on the field he doesn’t exhibit much leadership drive. And let’s not even worry about the arms; except for an old warrior named Flash Gordon, that’s an entire pitching staff praying for more days off.

And what happens if you do exhibit actual, impressive leadership qualities while playing for the Phils? You get shipped off to Siberia. I’m sorry, I mean Ottawa. (Phillies caps off to the guys at We Should Be GMs for their recent column on the sad-nay, tragic-status of short-lived city legend Chris Coste:

The Phils need somebody who can walk into that clubhouse and put some fear into these guys when that’s what’s called for, and some confidence into these guys when that’s what’s needed. Vince Lombardi once said, “There are other coaches who know more about X’s and O’s. But I’ve got an edge. I know more about football players than they do.” And what a huge part of any coach’s job that is—to know your players. To know how to motivate them. To know how to help them become the best players they can become.

Charlie Manuel seems like a fine guy to me. If I met him, I’m sure I’d like him. (Hell, who among us hasn't been tempted to challenge Howard Eskin to a brawl?) But after all of the Phillies slow starts, all of the moments of indecision and confusion exhibited on the field (let alone what must go on in the locker room), I have to assume Charlie just doesn’t know his team.

Keep in mind that Manuel was brought in for one reason: to make an experienced veteran named Jim Thome feel comfortable. Well, he’s not dealing with a team of Jim Thomes-or, anymore, even one of them. He's dealing with a dugout full of guys who by and large have not witnessed all that much winning in the bigs-a dugout full of guys who to some serious degree need to be taught how it's done. Some teams need a brilliant skipper, some need a drill sergeant. This team needs a motivator, and that doesn't seem to be Charlie's role.

Manuel’s biggest problem isn’t necessarily that he’s an idiot. Teams coached by idiots have won before, and they will win again. His biggest problem is that he’s the wrong kind of idiot for this team.


Anonymous said...

Yo, Mark!

So like, uh, what's the answer? Who should replace Charlie? You kinda got off on a tanget there, saying the Phils need an on-the-field leader. True. Somebody like Dutch Dalton. But then what? They still need a manager. Who should that be? As you know, the winningest of all time was a Philly guy, only not in the National League. Three top-10ers are still managing. No chance any of them would take it. So who? (And don't say, "Anybody but Charlie.")

Andrew Tavani said...

Mark, I agree Manuel is the "wrong idiot" for the Phils. However, I like Jimmy Rollins' fire and leadership attempts. The guy talked trash and then went out on the field and backed it up personally. Also, I take issue with comparing him to Dawkins--it's easier for Dawkins to fire guys up for 16 games then it is for Rollins to do so over a schedule ten times as long.

Unfortunately, Manuel's bad attitude or lack of an attitude (or whatever) has poisoned the team. I believe no leader, no matter how charismatic, can lead this team to its potential as long as Manuel is in charge. The players say all the right things about it not being Manuel's fault. But their actions tell another story. They are remarkably inept, futile and listless on the field. Judging by the the players' actions, I'd say they are begging for Manuel to get the axe.

Which brings up the point in the previous comment. Who should replace Manuel? How about Joe Girardi. Younger, tough guy and (from his years with the Yankees) well-acquainted with the concept of winning and competing in a media pressure-cooker.

Mark Tavani said...

Yo, anonymous!

I have to say, I didn't think talk of on-the-field leaders was a tangent. I think it's a crucial issue here: the Phils don't have any players with the proven ability to motivate the team. Soooooo, they need a coach who can motivate them.

Still, yes, the important question is, "So, who?" Fair enough.

Of course the Phils famously let Jim Leyland get away -- a decision that will haunt the franchise for years and years.

Also of course Davey Lopes already wears a Phillies uniform, so they wouldn't have to talk to the tailor if they went with him.

But I like Andrew's answer much better. Joe Girardi strikes me as the perfect kind of guy to energize this club and get them where they need to be. He's got energy, grit, and experience -- three things Charlie obviously lacks. Plus, I have to imagine Girardi's an ambitious enough guy to take the risk. Not every manager can go to a big town with hostile fans to take over a franchise with a lot of money but no immediate hope of success. Something tells me Girardi is one such guy.

(Also, Andrew, I agree about Rollins -- I tried to make clear that I like pretty much everything he does. The question was whether or not his actions are creating a winning spirit in the Phils clubhouse. I don't see how you can argue that they are.)

Andrew Tavani said...

I hear ya, Mark. However, I think in a clubhouse that wasn't poisoned by Manuel's contagious apathy, Rollins' leadership tactics would be effective. But I'm sure Phils' management will wait too long for us to ever find out, so the point is somewhat moot.

And you're on-point about Girardi--he's probably the perfect choice to replace Manuel...although getting him would mean having to lure him out of the Yankees YES announcers box. That could be tough mid-season.

Mark Tavani said...

Put Lopes in charge for the rest of the season and start working on Girardi!

Brian Smith said...

I think the Phillies should fire the entire coaching staff and bring in some guys who have been around winning from days gone by in the franchise. Mike Schmidt. Gary Matthews. Lenny Dykstra. Danny Jackson. Tony Perez. Other guys from the late 70s/early 80s or the 93 team. But the current roster of coaches must go.

Mark Tavani said...

Let's see. Schmidty and Steve Carlton can handle PR, Dykstra and his buddy John Kruk can organize the workout regimen, Danny Jackson can offer tips on anger management, maybe good ol' Charlie Hustle can even offer a few seminars on personal financing.

No, there is definitely something to be said for keeping it in the family. At the same time, there's something to be said for turning over a totally new leaf. I'd be happy to see them try either approach.

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