Thursday, April 19, 2007
THE WRONG KIND OF IDIOT
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: http://pabaseball.blogspot.com/.)
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.