Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tossed the first pitch before a Phillies-Mets game this past weekend. Credit: Getty Images
Charlie Manuel looks great. Nearly a year to the day after the most successful manager in Phillies history was fired, Manuel was honored with his own plaque on the Wall of Fame in Ashburn Alley Saturday night.
The folksy, animated Manuel, who has more stories than major league wins (1,000), is tan and reasonably fit. Prior to being honored by the fans, Manuel smiled and shook the hands of the media, who covered him for nine mostly glorious seasons.
Manuel appreciates the love he routinely receives on the streets of Philadelphia. “When I’m outside here, I can’t believe all the people that hug me,” Manuel said. “ It’s unreal. Women, men, young boys, kids. It sets me back. Why would anyone want to do that?”
The charismatic Manuel represents the good times, so people connect with the man, who led a Philadelphia team to its one and only championship since 1983. The problem is that the good times are gone. But it was only three seasons ago that Manuel led a Phillies team, which set a franchise regular season record of 102 wins.
“That might be the best job of managing I did with the Phillies,” Manuel said.
These days, the Phillies languish in last place in the NL East, seemingly light years away from contention.
Jimmy Rollins sat and watched Manuel receive his plaque without displaying much emotion.
“I love the time we had with Charlie,” Rollins said. “I remember all of the good but we’re in a different situation now.”
It’s difficult to smile when you’re down. It’s not easy for Rollins or any of the Phillies core that enjoyed the greatest run in the franchise’s long and mostly undistinguished history to lose with such regularity.
“You just do the best that you can out there,” Chase Utley said. “I approach things the same way now that I did in 2008.”
Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz look like Manuel did toward the end of his memorable run, withered and beaten down.
But perhaps its better to compete and not win than fail to compete at all.
“We’re trying hard,” Rollins said. “We want to win as much as ever.”
One day the Phillies core four will no longer be in the dugout and they’ll be on the outside looking in like Manuel.
“I miss being around the clubhouse more than the games,” Manuel said. “I miss the guys.”
Rollins agrees that he’ll miss the camaraderie as well.
“I’ll miss it but fortunately I’m still going to be playing for quite awhile,” Rollins said. “I’m here and I’m hoping for better days. I remember what it was like when we were winning all those games. I want to experience that again. There’s nothing like it.”