As a long-time New York Mets fan, I have been conditioned to display disdain towards teams competing in the same division. The Philadelphia Phillies are one of those teams in the NL East that I root against. My contempt for the Phillies reached a new high after the 2008 season: not because Philadelphia took advantage of a Mets’ collapse down the stretch in 2007 and 2008; it was because Cole Hamels, Phillies starter and their ace in 2007 and 2008, called the Mets “choke artists”.
Hamels was not necessarily wrong in referring to the Mets as chokers—in fairness he was answering a loaded question posed to him on WFAN, a New York sports radio talk station. It was the effusive smugness in his comments which rubbed me the wrong way. Hamels’ criticism of the Metropolitans was harder to take and dismiss because he backed up his arrogance with a stellar 2008 postseason performance, meriting the NLCS and World Series MVP award, and a World Series ring.
A year earlier before the start of the 2007 season, Phillies veteran shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, provoked Mets fans and Mets players when he said Philadelphia was the team to beat. His bold statement and not-so subtle swipe at the Mets was prophetic, and disheartening to Mets fans who watched their team squander a 7-game lead to the Phillies with 17 games left. Rollins played a significant role in the Phillies’ success that year, which earned him the NL MVP award.
Notwithstanding my dislike for the Phils, I was quietly impressed with the way Philadelphia collectively shifted into a higher gear following the All-Star break to finish the season strong. Phillies’ display of second half dominance coincided with the move to bring in Charlie Manuel as their manager in 2005.
During Manuel’s tenure with the Phillies, his team compiled a better record in the second half of each season from 2005 to 2012. Philadelphia won their division five years in a row from 2007 to 2011, and they made it to the Fall Classic in consecutive seasons, 2008 and 2009, winning a World Series title in 2008.
Here is Charlie Manuel’s aggregate track record with the Phillies from 2005 to 2012. [Click on stats to view enlarged image in new window.]
Charlie Manuel also managed the Cleveland Indians from 2000 until the All-Star break in 2002. During his short stint as the skipper, Manuel navigated Cleveland to the top of the AL Central in 2001. In two full seasons as the Indians’ clubhouse chief, his team won a greater percentage of games after the All-Star break. Since his dismissal in 2002, Cleveland has just one division title. The Indians have finished with more wins than losses only twice in the last 11 years.
The success and failure of a team does not rest solely on the leadership and decision-making of a manager. Although there is something to be said about the influence of a manager, his coaching staff and the organization’s executive strategists when a team plays inconsistent for more than a decades as have the Indians, following the departure of Manuel.
While Manuel was at the helm in Philadelphia, Phillies record had improved the subsequent year for five straight seasons. Phillies best all-around regular season was in 2011 when they finished with a 102-60 record. Given the precipitous decline of the Phillies from 102 wins in 2011 to 81 wins last year, and another subpar start this year, it was a forgone conclusion that Manuel would finish out 2013 as a lameduck manager.
After beating the Mets 13-8 to start the second half of this season, Philadelphia was 49-48 and in 2nd place, 6 ½ games back from the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Since that win in Citi Field on July 19th, Phillies have lost 19 of 23 games. Then Friday afternoon, August 16th, Phillies’ General Manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., let Manuel go and gave the reigns of the clubhouse to Ryne Sandberg.
The expression “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind. Phillies MLB title in 2008 is as distant as their previous WS title in 1980, or so it would seem the way the organization reacted in firing Manuel with 42 games to go.
Charlie Manuel’s body of work includes six postseasons; his teams have compiled a better second half winning percentage in 9 of his 10 full seasons as a manager. His career winning percentage translates to 89 victories in a full season.
Here is a look at Manuel’s year-by-year splits and totals with Cleveland and Philadelphia. [Click on stats to view enlarged image in new window.]
What will become of an aging Phillies’ ballclub with a farm system that is not exactly bursting with young talent? Only time will tell. The Phillies’ front office could have handled the managerial transition with more class and grace by letting Charlie Manuel finish out the season. Had it been handled the right way, the players and the fans could have properly said goodbye and thank you to a manager who deserved better.
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