Charlie Manuel has been in this position before. Oh yes, after two straight 90-win seasons and a division crown, Manuel felt as if he had earned a contract extension with the Indians. It made sense considering the Indians were going to rebuild around sluggers Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner as well as pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
Who better to guide the team than the wildly popular hitting coach and budding manager who returned from cancer treatment to run the team with a colostomy bag tucked under his jacket?
However, Indians general manager Mark Shapiro wasn’t ready to commit to Manuel and when Big Chuck forced the issue, there was only one move the club could make…
“'I wanted some answers,” Manuel told The Associated Press after his firing in 2002. “I didn't want to be in limbo.”
Shapiro saw it differently. The 90-win seasons and the trip to the playoffs didn’t matter much to the GM when he saw a few years of rebuilding in the post-Jim Thome era. Sure, Shapiro wanted Charlie to stay, but during the off-season he was going to have to campaign for his job.
“I wasn't ready, in that environment, to make that commitment to Charlie,” Shapiro said in 2002. “But I feel very strongly that I wanted him to be our manager for the rest of this year and I wanted to consider him to be our long-term manager in the off-season.”
Charlie, as they say, had hand. A couple of days before he was fired, Manuel hung with then-Yankees manager Joe Torre as a coach on the American League All-Star team and was his usual, fun-loving self. If he knew he was going to push Shapiro into firing him, Manuel sure didn’t act like it.
“For a guy who was going to a meeting and probably knew what the outcome was going to be, I think Charlie felt very secure with himself those three days in Milwaukee,” Torre said in 2002. “You can only do what you do. You're confident in your own ability, and after that, it's out of your hands.”
Flash ahead nearly nine years and check out what is being said in Clearwater, Fla. Once again Manuel is in the final year of his contract, only this time he has guided the Phillies to four straight trips to the playoffs, two World Series appearances and just the franchise’s second World Series victory in 128 years.
Moreover, Manuel has the third-most wins in the modern era of any skipper in Phillies history and should move past Danny Ozark in July. He is only 102 wins behind Gene Mauch for the most in franchise history and could match the club record in two fewer seasons than Mauch.
In fact, in the modern era only two managers who have led the club for at least three seasons have a better winning percentage than Manuel and for those men who stuck around longer than three years, Big Chuck is the best.
So what’s the issue? Based on the bottom line, the Phillies have never had a more successful manager than Charlie Manuel. Add in that he is wildly popular with his players and it seems like an extension for Manuel is the easiest decision general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will ever make. After all, Manuel only wants a two-year deal.
C’mon, two years? All this quibbling for two years?
Well, kind of…
According to Jim Salisbury, Manuel’s agent Pat Rooney aid his client wants a salary that measures with the top five skippers in the game. He is paid $2.4 million in salary this year and is reportedly looking for $4 million per season. That would put him in line with Terry Francona, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, Dusty Baker and Tony LaRussa as the best-paid managers.
But does Charlie have hand? At age 67, he’s going to play out the string and perhaps find a soft consulting gig like the one Dallas Green has. Maybe the Phillies don’t view managing the Phillies as a difficult gig? After all, the team is loaded with veterans and big contracts all with something to prove after falling short of the World Series in 2010. Maybe The Amaro Gang believes anyone could do what Charlie does?
Take the situation with Davey Lopes, for instance. By all accounts, Lopes was the architect for the Phillies’ success on the base paths where they stole bases at a success rate better than most teams in baseball history. However, when Lopes was looking for a small (relatively speaking) raise for 2011, the Phillies would not budge from the prescribed salary for a first-base coach. Lopes had is offer and he could take it or leave it.
So Lopes walked.
Is that where the team is headed with Manuel? After all, the manager says he wants a contract extension in place by opening day. Past that, the contract talk could become an issue on a team devoid of controversy.
“I’ll let other people worry about whether it’s a distraction,” Amaro told Salisbury.
“It wouldn’t be the first time in the world a manager would go into a season without a contract extension. It wouldn’t trouble me. It wouldn’t trouble the players. They’re pretty focused guys. Clearly none of us want this to be distraction and I don’t think it will be. Like I said, we’d like to be able to put this to bed, so we’ll see.”
Was that in the smug font?
Either way, Manuel says that the bottom line matters the most. Of course he says this knowing he’s been in this position before.
“Once the season starts I don’t want to talk about my contract,” he said. “Hopefully something happens in spring training. I don’t want it to be a distraction for the team. I definitely put my team first. The players and how we play is how I get a contract. This is the only time I want to talk about it. I want to stay focused on the season.”
Yeah, but will he be allowed to?