The Philly managerial phlip

Big news out of Philadelphia with the Phillies firing manager Charlie Manuel and replacing him with interim skipper Ryne Sandberg.

Manuel’s departure

On the one hand, this was rather surprising news. Manuel is the winningest manager in Phillies history. He’s piloted more games for them than any other skipper in their 130-year history and has led them to two pennants and the second franchise world championship. Oh, and he was also the longest-tenured manager in the NL. (Now that honor is jointly held by Bruce Bochy and Bud Black).

You just assumed he’d always be there, something of a fixture on the coaching scene. But this was a team on the decline. Their glory run ended last year with a .500 finish, and they are having a horrible time of it this year. When Manuel lost his job, the Phillies were 53-67 and had lost 19 of their last 23 games under his watch.

Those are typically the teams that fire their managers, aren’t they? It really isn’t Manuel’s fault. The team’s talent was old and injured and past its prime, but again, those are the types of teams that typically fire their managers.

Still, the firing seems a little quick, especially for someone who has achieved as much as Manuel had. It’s just been a bad month for Manuel. Okay, so they hadn’t been in contention for a year and a half, but that was still .500 ball. Compare that run with Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire. He’s on pace for his third straight 90-loss season and hasn’t been let go yet. And Gardenhire has never even won a pennant, let alone a world title.

Let’s look this up. How long do managers last after winning a world championship? Well, over the last 25 years, 17 manager have won world titles. How many of them were fired shortly after the team went sour?

Of those 17, three still are employed by their championship team: Mike Scioscia, Bochy, and Joe Girardi. Of the other 14, most of them kept the job as long as they wanted it. This ranges from guys who didn’t want it much longer (Tony LaRussa retired immediately after winning the 2011 World Series, and Jim Leyland wanted out after the great Florida fire sale) to guys who lasted quite a time (Tom Kelly in Minnesota, Bobby Cox in Atlanta).

The champion managers given the least leeway would be Terry Francona, Bob Brenly, Lou Piniella, and Manuel. Interesting collection. Piniella and Francona each lost their jobs after very good seasons by their clubs.

Piniella won a title with a surprising Reds club in 1990 but was fired after a 90-win 1992 season due to a dysfunctional front office helmed by owner Marge Schott. Francona’s departure from Boston in 2011 also created a lot of controversy over the inner workings of the club’s brain trust. (Besides, the Red Sox are one of the few teams that expect to compete for a championship every year, creating that much more pressure to do well).

Bob Brenly won a title in his rookie year 2001 with Arizona, took them back to the playoffs in 2002, and led them to a winning record in 2003, but he was fired in the middle of 2004. So that’s the least leeway a championship has granted any manager in the last 25 years.

That’s not great company for Manuel. Brenly is also one of the more derided championship managers of recent times. He drew plenty of criticism for his in-game tactics during the 2001 World Series. It wasn’t just a matter of people on blogs or in the media sniping at him, either. Nearly a decade since getting the axe, no other team has hired him as manager.

Manuel’s reputation

That said, while Brenly may not be the company a champion manager wants to keep, that does fit with Manuel’s overall image. While he’s never been as lampooned as Brenly was, he’s also never been really well regarded, either. Even when his teams won, he was never at the top of anyone’s list of best managers. Not only was he overshadowed by the trinity of LaRussa, Cox, and Joe Torre, but also by Piniella, Leyland, Sciosica, and others.

In 10 full seasons on the job, Manuel’s squads made it to the postseason six times and narrowly missed three others, yet you’d never guess that from the Manager of the Year Voting. He never won the award and received legitimate support in the balloting just two times.

Manuel has a .547 winning percentage and is more than 170 games over .500 but typically is viewed as a guy who won because his teams so often were so very talented.

First, he took over Cleveland from Mike Hargrove. The Indians won five straight division titles under Hargrove from 1995-99, but the club fired him and hired Manuel for 2000. He inherited a lineup featuring Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar, David Justice, and Kenny Lofton that was expected to win.

So when they won 90 games and came in second in 2000, Manuel didn’t look that impressive. They won 91 times in 2001 but lost in the ALDS. Well, that happens, but Manuel still hadn’t impressed anyone, 181 wins in two seasons notwithstanding. Thus, when the team got off to a lousy start in 2002, the club fired him midway through.

Manuel eventually caught on with the Phillies, of course, and while he had tremendous success there, it’s still those first two seasons with the club that help cement his reputation as a guy who is just along for the ride on a club loaded with talent.

The 2005-06 Phillies had plenty of talent. Their offense featured Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell. Their pitching wasn’t as star-powered, but both years, the staff’s overall park-adjusted ERA was better than average. Yet, both times the Phillies missed the playoffs. In each campaign, they were arguably the best team to miss October.

Up to 2006, Manuel’s reputation wasn’t very inspired, then. Despite averaging nearly 90 wins a year in his four full seasons, his teams seemed like underachievers. And nothing hurts a manager’s reputation more than having teams underwhelm.

From that perspective, Manuel has done a marvelous job improving his reputation over the last several years. Though never in the top tier of managers, he’s at least respected.

Manuel’s make-or-break moment came in Sept., 2007. After a 12-0 blowout loss to the Rockies on Sept. 12, the Phillies looked destined to yet another best-of-the-rest finish, where they’d be the most prominent team to miss the postseason. They trailed the first-place Mets by seven games with just 17 more games left to play. If they spent October at home, it’s an open question if Manuel would have returned for another year. (And if not, would any other team ever hire him as its skipper?)

Well, as we know now, the Phillies pulled off a miracle. Sure, they were greatly helped by the Mets flopping to a 5-12 finish, but the Phillies still had to go 13-4 on their end. And Charlie Manuel did more than just sit around for the ride.

Manuel needed to make every game count and not concede anything, and he had to do so despite a shaky starting rotation and a bullpen with a solid core but not much else. So he rode that core for all it was worth.

The team played in 28 games in September, and their top four relievers—J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon, Brett Myers, and Geoff Geary—combined for 67 relief appearances and 66.2 innings. (Prorated over a full season, that’s about 90 innings and appearances per man, something no one does at all any more, let alone four pitchers at the same time.)

And that core four was fantastic, posting a 2.43 ERA. That was the difference in the season. Romero appeared in 20 of the final 28 games (on pace for 116 in a season!) and didn’t allow a single run. That aggressive handling of the bullpen made the difference for the Phillies as a team and Manuel as a manager.

They may have been swept in the NLDS, but making the playoffs allowed Manuel to come back in 2007, when they won it all. And in 2008, when they lost the World Series. And then the next two years when they went back to the playoffs. But the memory of those earlier failures still stained the perception of Manuel as a manager. Maybe if the Phillies had won another World Series things would be different, but that’s not how it happened.

The Phillies at least were nice enough to keep Manuel around long enough to pick up career win No. 1,000. That’s a nice gesture. The team isn’t going anywhere anyway, so let him pick up his nice milestone.

It’s really unlikely any other team will tap Manuel as a new manager. He’ll turn 70 years old next January, and the only men that old ever hired as managers are Casey Stengel by the Mets and Jack McKeon by the Marlins. No, that’s not a very big club at all.

Enter Sandberg

Now Manuel is gone, and the new manager has been hired, Sandberg. He is easily the most prominent former player working the dugout now. Typically, Hall of Famer players don’t become baseball managers. In fact, Sandberg is just the third person to make his dugout debut after his Cooperstown induction.

Luke Appling and Ted Williams are the others,and neither was very successful. Appling lasted just 40 games as interim manager for Charles Finley’s Kansas City A’s in 1967 (in fact, that makes him the last A’s manager before the move to Oakland) before losing his job. Williams was out of his depth as manager of the late-1960s/early-1970s Senators/Rangers. He knew about hitting but not beans about pitching. Still, two managers is far too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from.

Interestingly, it used to be common for the best players to graduate into field generals. If you look back at the five men in the inaugural class at Cooperstown—Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson—four became managers. Only Ruth was left out.

In fact, of the 15 people inducted as players in the 1930s, 10 served as managers. The others typically had problems that made it impossible for them to become managers, including early death (Lou Gehrig), syphilis (Charley Radbourn), or alcoholism (Pete Alexander). Back then, being a great player made people think that gave you the right to manage. No one thinks that any more.

So in a way, Sandberg is a throwback, a great player who became a big league manager. But he also shows how times have changed. He didn’t just get the job because he’d once been a great player. Several years ago, when he approached the Cubs about managing, they told him he’d have to pay his dues.

And so he did. He became a minor league manager, working his way up from Class-A to Triple-A. He won titles along the way and was named the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year. Still, then-Cubs GM Jim Hendry opted to pick someone else to replace Cubs skipper Piniella, and so Sandberg joined the Phillies organization. He was named 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America and joined Philadelphia’s major league coaching staff in 2012.

In other words, Sandberg paid just about every due you could want: minor league managing experience, major league coaching experience, success on the job, public respect for his accomplishments, the works.

None of this means he’ll be successful in his new job, but at the very least, he’s been properly vetted. That’s why Sandberg became just the third Hall of Fame player of the last 20 years to become a manager, joining the aging Frank Robinson with the Expos/Nationals and Tony Perez, who had brief stints with the Marlins and Reds.

References & Resources

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  1. Dave Cornutt said...

    Say what you want about Manuel, but I don’t think firing him is, in itself, going to solve anything in Philadelphia.  The Phillies front office has let the team get old and burdened with bad contracts, and they emptied out the farm system in pursuit of the 2011 title.  With 100% hindsight, we can say that their believing themselves to be a contending team at the trade deadline was delusional, and they still seem to be delusional in thinking they can just reload (the bad contracts are going to stand in the way of that).  They have some talent but they also have a lot of holes; they need to do at least a partial rebuilding job, and I don’t get the sense that their front office realizes that.

  2. Clifford Lee said...

    id love to see a link where Manuel admits that he doesn’t know the mechanics of a double switch. Yes, his managerial experience was in the AL prior to the Phillies, but I find it very hard to believe he didn’t know how a double switch worked. kinda seems like you are just taking a last chance to hate on a guy that should be beloved in Philly. How exactly do you know that Jimmy Williams had to approve every decision? Cause they show shots of Manuel talking with his coaching staff prior to pitching changes/pinch-hitters? Gee, that’s so rare in baseball.

    IMO, this firing is an absolute travesty. Do the Phillies most likely need a fresh face in the locker room/dugout? Yes, I believe so, but it was the way the Phillies went about it that was so disgusting. To me, this screams one thing and one thing only. Ruben Amaro throwing someone else under the bus in hopes that ownership will not sack his horrible-self instead.

    There was no reason not to let Charlie finish the season out and go out the way he wanted to go. He led this team to only its 2nd World Series title, and the most exciting baseball this city has seen in 20 years. Amaro came in and destroyed it with awful decision making and sheer idiocy.

    I find it funny when people like Brad Johnson(the name says a lot about you quite frankly) bitch and moan about stupid/meaningless “in-game decisions.” Somehow no one seems to understand this idea: when managers get it wrong, everyone notices…all the times they get it right?…no one notices. They get all the blame when things go wrong, and none of the credit when things go right.

    Sorry, but Charlie didn’t sign a 30-yr old Ryan Howard 2 years before his contract expired(when history has shown time and time again that overweight, power-hitting 1B do NOT age well…especially when they cant hit a breaking ball to save their life).

    He didn’t sign Laynce Nix or Chad Qualls or Delmon Young or Michael Young or Ross Gload or Mike Adams or Raul Ibanez(at 34 I think?—3 years/27 million?). He didn’t sign a 31-yr old relief pitcher to a $60 million contract.

    He didn’t trade for Cliff Lee, then trade him away for much much less, only to then sign him in the offseason. He didn’t trade Jonathan Singleton, Travis d’Arnuad, Jonathan Villar, etc.

    He didn’t keep Dom Brown in the minors for far too long, never allowing him to fully adapt to the majors. He didn’t decide to promote Luis Perez instead of Jason Grilli(thereby allowing Grilli to opt out of his minor league deal).

    The blame doesn’t lie with Manuel, or his supposed inability to make a double switch. This mess is on Amaro, and if ownership doesn’t see that, then they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Paul E said...

    Clifford Lee (NTBCW Clifton Phyfer Lee):

    ….and Manuel didn’t sign Placido Polanco for 3 years/$18,000,000 when the market was probably 2 years/$9,000,000. The bad decisions at the top go on and on, however, a 70 year old glorified batting instructor might not be the best choice to manage the new group. If Manuel is really interested in continuing to manage, he’s got the jump on everyone else with this firing. It will be semi-interesting to see what his “market” shapes into….

  4. Dave Cornutt said...

    To be somewhat fair to the Phillies front office, one reason they might have wanted Sandberg in now is so that he can use the time remaining in the season to do a cold evaluation of the roster.  That way, they could start getting trades and roster moves ready to roll as soon as the season is over.  If they let Manuel stay on until the end of the season, they wouldn’t have that input.  Not saying this is actually their thinking, but it’s a possible rationale.

  5. Clifford Lee said...

    @Paul E—yeah, I know its Clifton Phifer, but I named my dog Clifford Lee(Basset Hound), so that’s why I used that name. I hear what you are saying about Manuel being old, but I think calling him a “glorified batting instructor” is selling him VERY short. From 2008-2012, the Phillies were 4th in all of baseball in ERA, 2nd in wins, 2nd in xFIP, and had the 2nd fewest losses. Additionally, their starters had the 2nd highest total WAR during that period. Did it help having Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt? Yes, most certainly. However, Oswalt wasn’t all that great in his time with the Phillies, and I fully believe that Manuel helped Hamels become the pitcher he has been the last 4-5 years.

    Bottom line is that Charlie Manual has managed 10 full seasons in the major leagues, and has finished .500 or better 10 times. He’s 31st all-time in winning % amongst managers, and if you take out this season with the Phillies, he was 727-569 overall. That would give him a winning % of .561. Of all managers with at least 1000 wins, he has the 15th highest winning %, and the only guys ahead of him that are NOT in the Hall of Fame are Billy Martin, Bobby Cox, Davey Johnson, and Steve O’Neill. Im sorry, but this guy simply does not get enough credit and its a real shame.

    @Dave—that would make sense if they had players to trade, but they simply do not. They don’t need to do a cold evaluation of the roster. Chooch should be gone(but they’ll almost certainly overpay for him and use last season as justification…this year was a “lost year”…I can hear it now already). They are stuck with Howard, Rollins, Papelbon, Halladay, and Lee unless they are willing to get back next-to-nothing in terms of trade return, or eat basically all the money. Howard is the exception there. You couldn’t pay teams to take him. Utley is what he is. He cant play 150+ games anymore. At best, he will give you 120 games of above average production. Then again, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he tweaked something one night and his career was over. Michael Young is worth less than a hot dog on Dollar Dog night. Ben Revere is a nice piece, but not a star by any means. Dom Brown is prolly at his ceiling this year(.260/30/100/10). Ruf could prolly be a Michael Morse-type if given a full season of ABs. Not sure what that does for you. Halladay is prolly done. The team is a nightmare right now. IMO, they have GLARING holes at Catcher, 1B, SS, 3B, LF, and at least 2-3 SP slots. Their bullpen is terrible, and outside of Franco, Biddle, and maybe Morgan, help is NOT on the way anytime soon. Ruben Amaro is quite possibly the single worst GM in ALL of sports. Guy is a moron. Nearly every decision he has made has been awful.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    I’m surprised that Manuel’s reputation was discussed without commenting on his inability to manage in-game roster decisions. Early in his Phillies tenure, Manuel admitted to not understanding the mechanics of a double-switch, while trying to excuse himself because he was an AL manager.

    The Phillies later hired a supporting staff of big league managers – Art Howe, Davey Lopes, and Jimy Williams – to help Manuel make in-game moves.

  7. Chris J. said...

    Brad – good catch on hiring the Confederation of Former Managers.  I should’ve put that in.

    That said, I don’t typically make a big deal of in-game tactics.  Those tend to be overrated and fans of every team will tell you their manager sucks at it.

  8. Brad Johnson said...

    True. In Manuel’s case, the double switch fiasco was pretty damning since that’s a tactic that most little league dad coaches can handle. And clearly the club recognized an issue since they hired the aptly named “Confederation…” This was back when I only really watched Phillies games and it was pretty obvious to those watching on TV that Jimy Williams had to approve every decision.

  9. AndrewJ said...

    <i.To be somewhat fair to the Phillies front office, one reason they might have wanted Sandberg in now is so that he can use the time remaining in the season to do a cold evaluation of the roster.  That way, they could start getting trades and roster moves ready to roll as soon as the season is over.</i>

    Similar to Dallas Green taking over for Danny Ozark in September 1979…

  10. Marc Schneider said...

    The only thing I know about the name “Brad Johnson” is that this was the name of a pretty good NFL quarterback.  Clifford, I think the world would like to know what you meant since it’s completely bewildering to everyone else. 

    I agree they should have let Manuel finish the season. Whether or not he was a good manager, it was pretty tacky to fire him like they did.

  11. Clifford Lee said...

    Brad Johnson was a weak-armed average QB in the NFL that was carried by an elite defense that included Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch. If you watched Brad Johnson play, you would understand what im saying.

    He wore elbow pads. ‘Nuff said.

  12. Brad Johnson said...

    The obvious explanation as to why the move was made now is so that the front office has time to evaluate Sandberg as the manager.

  13. Marc Schneider said...

    “Brad Johnson was a weak-armed average QB in the NFL that was carried by an elite defense that included Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch. If you watched Brad Johnson play, you would understand what im saying.

    He wore elbow pads. ‘Nuff said. “

    That has got to be the dumbest explanation I have ever heard. Brad Johnson was an NFL quarterback; I suspect he was a lot tougher than you will ever be and probably a lot more accomplished. And even if that makes some sense, there was no need to make an ad hominem attack on the commenter Brad Johnson.  That says more about you, Clifford, than it says about either Brad Johnson.

  14. Marc Schneider said...

    And, oh yeah, I saw Brad Johnson play.  He wasn’t bad; being an “average NFL quarterback” is not a bad thing to be.

  15. Clifford Lee said...

    ok, thanks for your great input! sure was swell.

    I never said I was tougher than Brad Johnson. I never said it was a bad thing to be an average NFL QB. I never said any of the things you said, and quite frankly, you’re comments have been much more on the offensive than anything I said initially. The question that seems more pertinent is why you got involved in the first place. You’ve added absolutely nothing to the debate except repeating what several others had already stated. My initial response was simply a defense of Manuel being short-changed as a “glorified batting instructor.”

    Im sorry if you don’t understand the Brad Johnson reference I made. Its pretty obvious that you didn’t watch him play very much because if you had, you would not be so befuddled by the comment I made initially. But hey, thanks again for nitpicking one tiny little sarcastic statement out of my entire comment and over-analyzing it to the extreme.

  16. Brad Johnson said...

    Just to chirp in again, I think Manual was an altogether above average manager. He seemingly is very good at getting the most out of his players, which is probably worth a lot more than screwing up the odd substitution.

    As for the double switch, try a google search. I found a page full of references in my first attempt and you can probably narrow down the age range to find the original incident.

    Sorry if my comments seemed inflammatory, I was merely pointing out that Manual’s reputation includes poor game management, something that wasn’t covered in the article.

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