CLEARWATER, FLORIDA – Wherever he goes, Charlie Manuel feels the love.
The folksy former manager is a folk hero among Philadelphia Phillies fans. It took the City of Brotherly Love a while to embrace Manuel and his down-home charm, but they grew to appreciate him.
Manuel won more games than any other manager in club history and delivered the franchise’s second World Series title in 2008. He was fired in 2013, but he still works for the team and has spent most of spring training in his old uniform serving as a special instructor.
From the minute he walks onto the field, fans constantly seek his attention for pictures and autographs. The 72-year-old Manuel always does his best to oblige.
“It’s tremendous. I can’t even tell you how I feel,” said Manuel, who played for the Yakult Swallows (two stints) and Kintetsu Buffaloes between 1976 and ’81. “Sometimes I didn’t know how to act. Elderly women, young women, men, they want to come over and give me a hug. It happens here, whenever I’m back in Pennsylvania. It even happened to me when I was in Las Vegas. They want talk to me like they know me and I think that’s one of the greatest things about it. When somebody walks up to you and they feel like they can just have a conversation with you and talk freely, I think that’s great.”
Manuel wasn’t the people’s choice when the Phillies hired him to replace Larry Bowa in 2005. At the time, fans wanted Jim Leyland. Many media members criticized the hiring and some took personal shots at Manuel, unfairly mocking him for his thick, Appalachian drawl.
But Manuel turned the doubters into believers. He led the Phillies on the best run in franchise history from 2007-11, guiding them to five straight division titles and two NL pennants. Manuel was 780-636 in eight-plus seasons. His successor, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, didn’t last long. Sandberg quit last June after going 119-159 in parts of three seasons.
Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. shed tears the day he fired Manuel and immediately offered him a job in the organization. Manuel took time off before returning as a senior adviser.
Though he lives in Florida, Manuel says he spends more time now traveling than he did as a manager. He scouts amateur, minor league and major league players. He visits the team’s minor league affiliates and talks to coaches and instructors. He also stops in Philadelphia to check on the big league club at times.
“I like being around the young players, watching their talent, seeing their tools,” Manuel said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help them and hopefully we get back to where we were.”
Manuel is a hitting guru who made his mark in the majors as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s. He previously turned down offers to become a hitting coach to stay in his current role with the Phillies.
“I like to spend a lot of time with every hitter,” he said. “I’m a firm believer when a coach has a job that he has to be able to be allowed to do their job.”
Manuel is one of several guest instructors who joined the Phillies in spring training. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and ex-slugger Greg Luzinski are among the others.
“We have to be on the same page as the hitting coach (Steve Henderson) and he should know everything I say to the hitter,” Manuel said. “We have to be mindful not to overload the hitter and give different philosophies.”
Manuel hasn’t ruled out managing if a team called. He could be the perfect fit for a club on the verge. Manuel proved in Philadelphia that he knew how to get the most out of his players.
“I miss the field and being around the players,” Manuel said. “It has to be the right situation where the front office and the general manager know who I am and what I’m about. I know people look at like I’m too old for managing. I know I can do it.”
Manuel says he enjoys fishing, golfing and working on classic cars, but if he happens to be home and a baseball game is on television, he’s watching it.
“The other day I stayed until 5:30 in the morning watching the Angels play the Reds in Arizona,” Manuel said.
That’s typical of a baseball lifer.