Once Again, Manuel a Victim of Circumstance

Sometimes, baseball nicknames can be creative. Sometimes they’re almost organic – flowing like hair on a 1970s Athletics player.

Rusty Staub was bestowed with the nickname “Le Grand Orange” for his hair color by admiring fans in Montreal. Dorrel Herzog and Edward Ford were both nicknamed Whitey. And how many players became known as Red for their hair color (or, in the case of a “Cheers” one-liner, because they read a book)?

Charlie Manuel’s red locks and torrid hitting led him to acquire another nickname while he was playing baseball in Japan: Aka Oni, or the Red Devil.

Earlier this month, Manuel, a former Indians skipper who led the 2008 Phillies to a World Series win, won his 1,000th game. He wouldn’t win another one. Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. – another former Indian – fired Manuel on Friday.

“He’s a special person. This is difficult for me. I hope he stays in our organization,” Amaro said, according to an ESPN report.

Current and former players were similarly affected. Jayson Werth, who left Philadelphia for the Nationals, told the Washington Post that Manuel deserved better. Jimmy Rollins said that Manuel took the fall for underperforming players. In fact, there were many circumstances out of Manuel’s control that precipitated his firing – just like in Cleveland.

Manuel had a total of 348 at-bats in the major leagues with the Twins and Dodgers before departing for Japan. He played five years there, honing his hitting skills and becoming a fan favorite. Manuel’s first post-playing job was as a hitting instructor for the Twins. At one point, Kirby Puckett asked Manuel, who grew up in the former Confederacy, why he didn’t help him. “Don’t you like black guys?” Manuel said he helped the players who were more in need of it than Puckett, then at the start of a Hall of Fame career.

Manuel got on Doc Edwards’ coaching staff in 1988, one of five future managers on the team. After two years as an Indians coach, he started managing in the minor leagues. In 1994, he came back to the Indians as hitting coach, this time for manager Mike Hargrove. Manuel’s avuncular dugout presence meshed well with the team, which proceeded to tear the cover off the ball for essentially the rest of the decade. But he wasn’t just comic relief, once challenging volatile Albert Belle to a fight in the clubhouse. Belle backed down.

After Hargrove was fired as Indians manager following the 1999 season and another division title, Manuel took over. In 2000, the Indians finished second, failing to win the American League Central Division for the first time since the strike year of 1994. Manuel was the manager for the Indians when they came back from a 12-0 deficit to beat the Mariners on a Sunday night on live television. That year was the last hurrah for the Indians dynasty of the 1990s, as they won the Central title, but fell to the Mariners in the division series in five games.

The following summer, the Indians went into rebuilding mode. Manuel was fired two weeks after the Tribe traded their ace, Bartolo Colon. The deal would ultimately reap dividends, with the Indians getting future Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee along with Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore, but at the time, it looked like contention was a mile away. Joel Skinner finished out the season as interim manager before Eric Wedge was hired.

Manuel landed in Philadelphia as a hitting instructor, and he was one of the selling points the Phillies used to lure Jim Thome away from the Indians. In 2004, Larry Bowa was fired as Phillies manager. After the season, Manuel was hired to replace him.

Throughout their history, the Phillies were regarded as one of the worst teams in the major leagues. In fact, in 2007, the Phillies became the first major league team ever to lose 10,000 games. Bowa was a fan favorite as a player and manager, while Manuel was regarded as something of a bumpkin. But as the 2007 season went on, the Phillies went 23-11 to overtake the Mets and win their first division title since 1993. They lost the Division Series in three games to the Rockies. Also that year, the Indians won the American League Central Division, and got out to a 3-1 series lead against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series before falling in seven games, becoming the third team in American League history to lose an ALCS to the Red Sox after a 3-1 series lead. It remains the only postseason appearance by the Indians since Manuel’s firing.

The following year, the Phillies once again overtook the Mets for the National League East, and went on to win the World Series. The Phillies returned to the World Series in 2009 – now with Cliff Lee, who was snookered away from the Indians by Amaro – losing to the Yankees. In 2010, the Phillies were bounced in the NLCS by the eventual World Champion Giants, and in 2011, the Phillies – with Lee back as part of an amazing rotation including Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels – were denied another trip to the Fall Classic with a five-game Division Series loss to the eventual World Champion Cardinals.

Last year, the division went not to the Phils, but to the Nationals, and the Phillies continued to fade this year, losing 15 of 20 games after the All-Star break. Manuel ended up taking the fall, because as Alvin Dark, another former Indians manager who went on to win a World Series, once said, “When in doubt, fire the manager.”

Photo: AP Photo

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