Method to the madness

During Charlie Manuel’s first spring training as manager of the Phillies, players raved about the change in atmosphere around the clubhouse. For the first time since Terry Francona managed the team, the ballplayers felt relaxed and able to do their jobs without a screaming and spittle-filled tirade from the man in charge.

Manuel was just what the Phillies needed, the players said. In an era where the average salary for a baseball player was a little more than $2 million, there was no need for extra motivation.

A screaming manager or coach not only is the personification of bush league and a throwback to ridiculous archetype, but also is just silly. When Larry Bowa was finally let go and replaced with Manuel, everyone was happy.

Yes, Manuel was a good man who fostered an environment in which ballplayers could easily go about their jobs without the annoyance of reprisal. Manuel figured a relaxed ballplayer was a good ballplayer.

But Manuel was never a push over. From Jim Thome to Randy Wolf to Jimmy Rollins and all down the line, players who knew better said that Charlie was a nice and classy as could be, but…

“Don’t cross him,” players warned.

In other words, don’t mistake Manuel’s kindness for weakness.

In the years since that first spring the Phillies have been stamped with the Seal of Charlie. Unmistakably, the Phillies are Manuel’s team. The bash-and-bop style of Phillies’ offense reflects Manuel’s nature as a minor-league and Japanese League star and is reminiscent of his teams in Cleveland. There, with Thome, Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle in the middle of the order and Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton setting the table, the Indians went to the playoffs six times in seven years and to the World Series twice in three seasons.

The Phillies clearly aren’t good as those Cleveland teams, but the formula is the same.

Charlie is the same, too. Don’t cross him.

Jimmy Rollins, the diva-like reigning NL MVP, learned as much on two different occasions this season. Once when Rollins failed to hustle down the first-base line on an easy pop fly that dropped in for an error, and another time when the shortstop showed up late for a game at Shea Stadium, Manuel yanked him from the lineup and put him on the bench.

To Charlie, an MVP trophy doesn’t mean a player stops being accountable.

Accountability isn’t just about hustling and showing up on time, either. Ask starting pitcher Brett Myers about that.

Saturday night, Myers made the mistake of shouting, “This is my [bleeping] game,” toward Manuel as he ambled out to the mound to make the pitching change. Despite his teammates’ calls for him to knock it off, Myers continued shouting at Manuel until he made a hasty retreat toward the back of the dugout.

Though Myers has been good since returning from his month-long exile to the minors the get his pitching back in order and he had held the Pittsburgh Pirates to a run and five hits through 7 2/3 innings and 92 pitches to that point in the game, the pitcher didn’t think the fact that the Pirates had three straight lefties coming up nor that he had given up three hard hit balls that inning meant much.

But that all changed when the pitcher turned around after continuing his tirade in the dugout only to find Charlie bearing down on him, screaming and pawing at the insolent pitcher’s left shoulder. When the argument spilled to the runway leading back to the clubhouse, Charlie finally had to be pulled away lest the heated exchange turn physical.

That would have been something.

Some speculated in jest that Myers would have had an advantage if it come to fisticuffs since he was trained as a boxer before turning to baseball as a teenager. Perhaps. But boxer or not, Myers clearly doesn’t have Manuel’s toughness – mental or physical. For one, Manuel has had cancer, a heart attack and bypass surgery. When he returned to work for the Indians after cancer surgery, he kept a colostomy bag under his jacket.

That’s tough. The crazy came from his playing days when Manuel brawled with manager Billy Martin as a rookie with the Twins. Later, while playing in Japan, Manuel famously fought the East German hockey team (all of them), and was beaned in the face with a pitch and played despite the fact that he couldn’t eat solid food.

So a precious little boxer from Florida who once allegedly fought his wife on a crowded Boston street can’t really be a match for the much older manager, can he?

Yeah, Myers may have thought it was his game, but the Phillies are very clearly Charlie’s team.

After the game when things cooled down a bit, Myers apologized and admitted he was wrong for showing up his manager.

“I’m a competitor,” Myers said. “I like competing and I wanted to stay in and finish the game. But sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you might do something irrational out there. He thought I did. That’s part of the game. It’s all patched up now, though. We’re buddies.”

Since rejoining the Phillies after his demotion to the minors, Myers is 2-0 with a 2.10 ERA in four starts. His two wins are against Washington and Pittsburgh – combined those teams are 97-138 this season.

“I missed a month without being here with the team and I wanted to try to prove myself again that I can pitch in the big leagues – and I wanted to stay out there as long as I could,” Myers said. “He made the decision and that’s his decision.”

Manuel didn’t take blame or apologize afterwards. Actually, it seemed as if he kind of enjoyed the confrontation, noting that it was just a matter of two guys having a disagreement.

“He’s fine,” Manuel said as if Myers’ ego was injured more than anything else. “He just wanted to stay in the game and I like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if he didn’t want to stay in the game, I’d probably be mad.”

He certainly wasn’t mad about taking Myers out of the game though – just as he wasn’t upset about disciplining Rollins.

“I’ll tell you something: his confidence got back. That’s why I took him out of the game. I wasn’t going to let him lose the game. He was leaving on a high note, and there’s four left-handed hitters standing there,” Manuel said. “I wasn’t going to give him a chance to get hit. He already pitched a good game and did a good job.”

Is there a method to Charlie’s madness? Probably not. After all, he was the ballplayer described in the essential book about Japanese baseball called You Gotta Have Wa as, “a big, red-haired character from West Virginia with a talent for producing anarchy out of order.”

The ironic thing is that it has been the exact opposite in Philadelphia. There might not be a method to the madness, but it certainly is effective.

1 thought on “Method to the madness

  1. Myers is, has been, and always will be a headcase. I’m happy for him that he got his confidence back and very happy for him that he’s pitching better, but he’s got to stop making excuses and grow up already. The guy hardly ever pitches complete games, he and the Phillies handled that ugly incident in Boston horribly, and he has the nerve to show up the manager who has stayed loyal to him despite all the crap he’s put him and the organization through?

    Him and Diva Rollins need to take a page from Jamie Moyer and Chase Utley. Play the game hard, play it right, be a teammate first and individual second.

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