Cataldi: Manuel lucked way to world championship

Charlie Manuel earned career win No. 1,000 Monday night after a 5-1 victory over Atlanta.
Charlie Manuel earned career win No. 1,000 Monday night after a 5-1 victory over Atlanta.

Now that all of the gushing testimonials about Charlie Manuel have been written, it’s time to tell the truth about the most overrated manager in Phillies history.

When he was fired last Friday, he received a hero’s sendoff from a city snookered by his bumbling charm. You will read none of that empty-headed sentimentality in the words that follow here.

Manuel won more games than any manager in the team’s history, and he won a championship here in 2008. He accomplished both of these feats with the finest collection of talent ever assembled in Philadelphia — Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, all in their primes together.

The bottom line is, he underachieved. The division was weak, the stands were full and Manuel just kept finding ways to lose the games that mattered most. He had the best team in baseball in 2009, and he blew the World Series to the inferior Yankees. He had a 102-win team in 2011 — arguably the best club of the era — and couldn’t get past the far weaker Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.

Time and again, championships were there for the taking if Manuel had just asked Rollins to sacrifice, or if he had sent in a pinch-runner for Ryan Howard, or if Jonathan Papelbon were brought in just one out earlier. The beloved skipper was a robot, never secure enough to deviate from his sacred plan.

Manuel was not the best manager in Phillies history; he was the luckiest. He was fortunate to arrive here just as the biggest wave of talent swept through, and he was lucky that his one championship team in 2008 was Charlie-proof. Lidge saved 48 games that season. He blew none. He served as the perfect eraser for all of his manager’s blunders.

No one, except Manuel himself, would dispute his shortcomings in strategy, but his many admirers have always argued that he made up for those flaws by getting the most out of his players. They loved Charlie. They played hard for Charlie. Tell that to Rollins, who ran hard when he felt like it. Tell that to Papelbon, who has been begging for weeks to leave the team. Tell that to the entire 2013 club, which cared so much about him that they quit.

Phillies fans have embraced Manuel because he is a genuinely nice man who came to town at the right time and delivered a championship. Tears were shed after the announcement last Friday. GM Ruben Amaro openly wept. Fans outside Citizens Bank Park cried. The Internet was clogged with misty-eyed memories of a wonderful era.

The smartest fans were crying, too, but for an entirely different reason. They were crying over what might have been, if Charlie Manuel hadn’t spent the last nine years squandering our best chance ever for a sports dynasty.

Kelly making Vick sweat

As Mike Vick re-establishes himself as the starting quarterback on the Eagles, the clamor is growing for coach Chip Kelly to make it official. He will not. Chip Kelly is smarter than the chorus of clowns demanding closure. Chip Kelly is smarter than just about all of us.

Kelly’s plan with the quarterbacks in his rookie season is, like most things he has introduced, brilliant. It is clear now that the competition between Vick and Nick Foles has very little to do with their respective skills. At 33, Vick remains one of the most gifted quarterbacks ever to play the position. Foles is just another guy.

The problem with Vick is that he loses focus as he grows more comfortable. His best years in Atlanta came in his contract years. His best season in Philadelphia was in 2010, when he was fighting to save his career. Kelly saw this trend, and now he is exploiting it. If the new coach has anything to say about it, Vick will never again feel secure.

Despite my earlier predictions, Vick is going to be the starting quarterback when the season opens. Foles, a respectable backup at this early point in his career, will be lurking at all times, and Matt Barkley will be just a heartbeat behind Foles. Every turnover by Vick will bring him closer to demotion, and should jar him back into playing the brand of smart football that Kelly demands.

Why is it so hard for the people demanding a decision to see this exquisitely simple plan? Why is it so important that the coach make a choice halfway through the preseason? Why do so many people want an independent thinker like Kelly to lapse into a conventional approach?

Mike Vick is going to win the starting quarterback job, but he is never again going to own it. Chip Kelly will make sure of that.

Sixers ownership cannot be trusted

Joshua Harris is taking his socially awkward style of sports-franchise ownership to northern Jersey, but he is not bringing the Sixers with him — or so he says.

Harris officially purchased the Devils last week and preached his love for Philadelphia, no small achievement since he hasn’t been within 100 miles of our city in weeks. Harris and his even more reclusive GM Sam Hinkie conducted the final round of interviews for the Sixers head-coaching job in New York City, the base of billionaire Harris’ financial empire. He even named his New York PR man, Scott O’Neil, the CEO of both franchises. If they ever revive the “I Love New York” campaign, Harris should be the spokesman.

When I asked O’Neil how fans should interpret all of these connections to New York, he said Harris has been too busy to give much time to the Sixers right now. With the Devils’ logo behind him last week, Harris himself expressed frustration that fans cannot see his commitment to Philadelphia.

The irony of this bizarre situation is that the last few moves by the organization make perfect sense. The Sixers are purposely getting worse so they can draft a superstar next year, and they have hired a coach, Brett Brown, who looks like an ideal fit for the long-term plan. Even now, it appears the New York carpetbaggers are an improvement over clueless Ed Snider and Comcast.

But the assuring words of an absentee owner are not going to change a perception that grows clearer every day. Joshua Harris is not a just an owner who is rarely seen here. He is a man who can never be trusted.

Idle thoughts from Cataldi

» Jeff Lurie just can’t help himself. During a visit to the broadcast booth last week, the Eagles owner compared Chip Kelly to Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson, and then said he didn’t think his new coach would need as much time to start winning as those two Hall of Famers. No pressure, Chip. No pressure at all.

» Can someone please explain how Hugh Douglas lost his job at ESPN for racial remarks directed against a black colleague, but Riley Cooper kept his spot on the Eagles after an even more outrageous incident? If Cooper deserves a second chance, why doesn’t Douglas?

» Now that Donovan McNabb keeps expressing his public angst at the repeated snubs of Washington’s Robert Griffin III, are there any fans left who still doubt what a headcase old No. 5 was when he quarterbacked the Eagles? I didn’t think so.

» Flyers superstar Claude Giroux severed the tendons in his right index finger while playing golf? Really? Either there’s more to that story, or the Flyers need to visit an exorcist.

» Why did the Flyers wait until Monday to set the world record for most people watching paint dry? Why didn’t they just go to a Sixers game last season?


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