Decision Time: Charlie Manuel

It's been said that a public vote of confidence is the kiss of death. After the season, GM Ed Wade announced that Charlie Manuel and his coaching staff were returning for 2006. Now, Wade is gone and Manuel and his staff are left hanging in the breeze, waiting for a decision from a new general manager.

The good news for Charlie Manuel is that the Phillies won 88 games this past season; the most that they've won since the '93 team won 97 games on their way to a National League Championship. Of course, the 88 wins were also the most in the Ed Wade era and his unemployment paperwork is being filled out as we speak. Manuel seemed to be safe when it looked like Wade would return for another season as the Phillies' GM. That all changed eight days ago when Wade, who had announced that Manuel and his coaches were safe, was dismissed. Managing General Partner, Dave Montgomery has given a slight vote of confidence to Manuel, but has tempered it with the pronouncement that the new GM will have the opportunity to make his own decision about the teams manager.

If it were up to the players, it's very likely that Manuel would return. His style was a welcome change from the days of Larry Bowa and his tirades and public lashings of players in the media. Instead, players were treated to a more relaxed atmosphere where Manuel deflected any and all criticism of his club and was more than willing to put it on himself. The players responded and helped lead the Phillies to a good season, where they fell just short of a playoff appearance. In fact, they came so close that you have to wonder if the extra win or two here and there that they needed might have saved Wade's job and made the whole issue of whether or not Manuel returns a non-issue.

As far as being a tactician, Manuel has glaring weaknesses. He seems unaccustomed to the theory behind the double-switch. His pinch-hitting choices seemed to lack logical choices at times. And perhaps the most glaring weakness was his use of the bullpen. Ryan Madson was completely out of gas when the final weeks of the season approached, because he had been overused. Still, Manuel insisted on going to Madson in key spots and if any one part of Manuel's decision making process cost the Phillies a playoff spot, his use of Madson could well be that part. Many of the members of the bullpen were overused to the point where it affected their late season performance. Meanwhile, there were situations where other members of the bullpen - most notably Billy Wagner - might have been put to good use, but were ignored.

The truth is that if a crystal ball would have shown that Randy Wolf and Jim Thome would both miss considerable time in 2005, most estimates would have had the Phillies buried. Granted, the performances of Robinson Tejeda and Ryan Howard filled the gap, but some credit has to go to Charlie Manuel for holding a sinking club together. When the Phillies appeared to be on the verge of a major fade, Manuel gathered the troops for a pep talk and the approach worked. Again, it was Manuel who shouldered the blame and found positives in how his players went about their business. The buck stopped with Charlie Manuel and there's something to be said for that.

Charlie Manuel has gotten a bad rap in that he has been labeled as Jim Thome's personal pick to manage the club. He's been berated in the media and among fans for his down-home, countrified personality. The fact is that Charlie Manuel has been around baseball a long time. Could Jim Leyland have gotten more out of this club? It's possible, but Leyland's demeanor could have also been a detriment to the players and front office folks alike. It's not far fetched to see where Leyland and Wade would have clashed, causing major distractions for a club pursuing the playoffs. Instead, Manuel simply used what he had at his disposal and got what he could from his players. He stood up to Mike Lieberthal and got Todd Pratt more at bats than he has ever had in his career. Pratt became the personal catcher for Jon Lieber, who responded to the move. That's something that Larry Bowa refused to do. Manuel likely should have done more of the same with David Bell, but his choices at third weren't quite as clear as they were behind the plate.

The Phillies could find a better manager to run this team, but it wouldn't be easy. What Manuel lacks in situational know how, he makes up for in being the right guy to relate to the group of players assembled in Philadelphia. Wade went through eight seasons without a playoff appearance. Bowa went through four tumultuous seasons as the Phillies skipper and there were still people who wanted him to continue on when Wade dismissed him after the 2004 season. Manuel deserves better than what he's had to face in his time with the Phillies and he deserves an opportunity to return for the 2006 season. It's likely that the new GM will see that and understand that changing managers after one season isn't the way to go. If the Phillies stumble in '06, then Manuel is gone - possibly before the season even reaches mid-point - but for now, he's the most logical choice to lead the club into the next season. If given the opportunity, Manuel could use the same demeanor that made him a foil of fans and media to become a well cherished part of Philadelphia sports. Polished he's not, but Manuel has gotten players to produce for him and that deserves the chance to develop.

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