Manuel unable to resist lure of game in return to Philly
Dismissed in August, respected manager relishes chance to work with youth as adviser
Charlie Manuel is returning to the Phillies, a great move for both the team and its former manager.
Manuel agonized for weeks over whether to accept the offer to become a senior adviser to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. He's obviously concerned about the awkwardness of rejoining an organization that last August pushed him out the door even though he's the most successful manager in franchise history.
But if anyone can make the return work, Charlie Manuel can. He's swallowed his pride and taken a position in a city where he remains one of its most beloved sports personalities.
"I had my doubts about how I felt about coming back, but when I considered everything, I'm not ready to quit the game," Manuel told me. "I cannot describe the enjoyment I get out of being around baseball.
"And when I work with the Minor League players, it's going to be just like it was the 10 years I was a hitting coach and manager in the Cleveland Indians' system.
"I not only want to teach guys how to hit, but teach them how to play the game right."
Manuel, 70, is joining Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick and Dallas Green as senior advisers. It's interesting that Manuel and Gillick produced the Phils' 2008 World Series championship and Green was manager of the team's only other title in 1980.
Manuel says exact details haven't been finalized, but he expects to be in Clearwater, Fla., working with young players during extended spring camp. He'll continue to work with Minor Leaguers during the season and also do some scouting.
More importantly, Manuel is returning to the Phillies, with whom he won five consecutive division titles, two National League pennants and, of course, the 2008 World Series. During 12 years of managing -- with the Indians and Phils -- he won 1,000 games; his 780 wins during nine years with Philadelphia place him first, ahead of the late Gene Mauch (646).
And of Manuel's nine years in Philadelphia, his only losing season was 2013; the Phillies were 53-66 when Ryne Sandberg replaced him on Aug. 16.
"Just being around the game is great for me," Manuel said. "It definitely keeps me young. When I look at some of the video when I got let go last August, I looked old and tired.
"It was no fun for me. I got to the place where we were losing and I was unhappy. I didn't like the situation, and that's not good, not good at all. I like to win."
Few managers have been as popular as Manuel became, basically the face of what had to be the best era in Phils history.
Fans loved him.
The night Manuel was dismissed, he dined at a Philadelphia restaurant. His departure was the top news of the day. As Manuel got up to leave the restaurant, everyone in the room stood and gave him a standing ovation.
All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, in an interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX and MLB Network, said of Manuel's dismissal: "It was difficult. I was not ready for it. I don't think he was ready for it. It was something that happened fairly quickly. He's been my manager ever since I've been an everyday player. He's stuck with me; he's penciled my name in that lineup when I was 0-for-24. He always instilled that confidence in me. And that's something that I'll never forget, and I'll always be grateful to him."
Said Manuel: "Every hitter I've worked with, the biggest thing is to instill confidence. That makes him relax and enjoy hitting -- comfort and relaxation is overlooked in hitting. You have to have that."
John Hart was Manuel's general manager for most of the years when he was with the Indians. Hart encouraged him to take the Phillies' job.
"He's such an asset to the organization," Hart, now an MLB Network analyst, told me during December's Winter Meetings. "He's one of the best teachers and hitting coaches I've known."
Jim Thome, who hit 612 homers during 22 seasons and is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, credits much of his success to the long hours Manuel worked with him in the Minor Leagues.
Manny Ramirez, who also broke in with the Indians and became one of baseball's most dreaded hitters, was a Manuel pupil.
"And don't forget Omar Vizquel," said Manuel. "I worked with him when he came over to the Indians from Seattle."
Manuel is weeks away from beginning his new assignment, but his enthusiasm is already obvious.
"I didn't have to change Omar very much," said Manuel. "I did move his hands a little higher [on the bat] and remind him of what kind of hitter he is. He was a high-ball hitter, both from the left and right side. He could hit a ball down-and-in left-handed. I reminded him when to bunt, how to bunt and things like that -- how he has to play his game."
When Manuel starts his new gig, he says his first responsibility will be getting to know his players.
"I like to be around them a while, stand around and study them," Manuel said. "I like to communicate first and not jump in and make changes. I want to get to know the hitter -- what kind of player he is and what kind of player he wants to be.
"It's always been my belief you have to work slowly into making changes in [a player's] hitting. I try to think what's best for him. Like I said, you have to sell him on what kind of player he is. You have to know what his talent is and work with that."
After a pause, Manuel said: "I've always liked to work with young hitters. That's a big challenge for the guy and for me. Players will always give credit for the time I've spent with them.
"But, you know, I never expect anyone to reward me with words. He'll reward me with his performance."
So Charlie Manuel is back with Philadelphia.
The image most fans may have of Manuel is a forlorn picture of him walking down the tunnel, leaving Citizens Bank Park last Aug. 16. That was the same day the Phillies were supposed to honor him for his 1,000th victory.
Now, he's back. And the Phils can put the distasteful day of Aug. 16 behind with a "Charlie Manuel Tribute" one night during the 2014 season.
There'll be a standing ovation, and it won't be in a restaurant.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.