Did your parents ever let you choose who they would call to baby-sit you when you were a kid? Of course, you would choose the one that was the most fun and might even let you get away with a thing or two that the others wouldn't. It could be said that Ed Wade let the players help decide who would baby-sit them and they chose Charlie Manuel. That thought may be a little short sighted though.
Make no mistake, Charlie Manuel is a good choice. He had success in Cleveland as a manager and yes, he relates well to players. Don't be fooled by his down home manner or his back woods accent. This is a guy who knows his stuff and is respected by players. This is also a guy who can be tough when he needs to be, although it's not in an "in front of the cameras" sort of way. He's more the type to handle things behind closed doors, helping to preserve the fragile egos of today's players. Keep in mind too, that he has drawn respect from current Phillies players who have grown used to having him around the team since he joined Ed Wade's staff in the front office. Pat Burrell for one, took to his coaching last spring when he reported early to work on his beleaguered swing in the Clearwater sunshine. Jim Thome credits Manuel for making him a better hitter when the two were in Cleveland.
Jim Leyland would have been a more popular choice. Keep in mind though that he wasn't exactly the most successful of managers. Some fans argue that Pittsburgh didn't give him great players during his time there and when they did, he produced winning teams. Funny, couldn't we say the same about Terry Francona. Having a good team in Boston has made him look much smarter than he did during his tenure in Philly. Keep in mind too, that Leyland didn't command respect from his interview. The man got up during the interview and excused himself to go get cigarettes. If he can't plan ahead enough to have enough cigarettes on hand, how is he going to plan ahead on how to use the bullpen? It also seemed that Leyland lobbied just a little too much for the job; at least once he decided that he really did want the job. As attractive as Leyland might have been, the guy bailed on his last two managerial jobs and didn't handle himself or the process as well as he should have this time around. If Jim Leyland wants to manage again, he will likely have his chance elsewhere.
Jim Fregosi would have been an interesting choice, but hiring him would have been hitting a little too close to home. Plus, this team isn't Macho Row and might not have responded to the way that Fregosi manages. Grady Little, Buddy Bell and Don Baylor were simply out interviewed in the process and Terry Pendleton and John Russell were both interesting choices, but really weren't ever thought of as serious candidates. In the end, the Phillies narrowed it down to Manuel, Leyland and Fregosi and it's thought that Leyland was their second choice. Of course, a second choice wasn't really necessary because the Phillies knew that Manuel wouldn't turn down the offer.
For Ed Wade, this process was an important one. It's not likely that he's got too many chances left. In March, it will be seven years since Wade was hired as general manager and his run in Philadelphia hasn't been highly successful. You might say that he is responsible for rebuilding the farm system, but most of that credit generally goes to Mike Arbuckle. Technically, this is the second manager that Wade has hired, although he did make the decision to stick with Terry Francona and twice, extended his contract. Things were different before because the team was young and not truly expected to win. In 2004, that was different. Larry Bowa took the fall for this past season, but if things don't work in 2005, the bullseye moves squarely to the back of Ed Wade. You have to figure that he is walking a fine line and hiring a manager this time around may be his last chance. You can only blame things on other people for so long before people start to realize that the one constant has been you, Mr. Wade.
Perhaps, Wade's comfort with Manuel went a long way toward his decision. Leyland and Fregosi might have been too outspoken and perhaps, too popular. That would have shifted the target more squarely to Wade, had things gone badly. There were better choices than Bell, Little and Baylor, who all came with some amount of baggage. Wade certainly wasn't going to risk this hiring with an inexperienced manager like Pendleton or Russell, either. In Manuel, he gets experience, a level of comfort and someone who he already knows many players will respect and want to play for. Word is that some players privately campaigned for Manuel to get the job. Basically, it's a safe hiring for Wade.
To watch Manuel handle the job will be interesting. He has a mix of personalities on this club that he has to keep track of. Thome is the ever professional ballplayer. Bobby Abreu is the kind of player who needs a certain amount of discipline to keep him on track. Under Francona, he was constantly late getting to the park and took a very casual approach to preparing for games. Burrell, who is a big fan of Manuel, is in constant need of stroking to keep his approach straight. He is also in constant need of help with his swing. Brett Myers and Vicente Padilla seem to have authority issues and then, you have young players like Ryan Madson and Chase Utley who are still relatively unadjusted to the rigors of major league baseball.
It will also be interesting to see what coaches Manuel brings to the staff. In Cleveland, his pitching coach was Dick Pole. Gary Ruby, a minor league pitching instructor for the Phillies, is mentioned as a possibility, as is broadcaster Larry Andersen. Manuel could move Gary Varsho to third base coach or leave him on as the bench coach, depending on how comfortable he feels with him. And, the status of hitting coach Greg Gross is still up in the air. Jeff Manto, a Manuel protege and former Phillie, has been mentioned as a possible replacement. You have to figure that Manuel will look to bring at least one coach similar in age to him onto the staff. He will also likely look for that coach to be someone that he is very comfortable with. There will be a lot of options and it's unlikely that Manuel will fill the spots immediately.
The Charlie Manuel era is underway and we don't know where it will lead. From the brashness of Bowa, we come full circle to the softness of a Terry Francona type manager. There are two exceptions to the Francona comparison though. First, Manuel has major league managerial experience. Second, he has a better team than Francona inherited and just remember how much smarter those better teams can make a manager look.