The notion that the Phillies would have allowed Charlie Manuel to manage into the last year of his contract never made any sense, on any level. They spent a bajillion dollars and tossed away every organizational cornerstone -- don't do long-term deals with pitchers; don't be anything but prudent in spending -- when they signed Cliff Lee. They put a laser's focus on the importance of the next season or two or three, for the fans and the franchise.
Given that, there was no way they could have allowed a distraction to be created over the fate of the manager, especially when the amount of money being talked about is a lot for you and me and Manuel, but a dust mite in the big picture. It is why Manuel's two-year contract extension, announced bright and early on Thursday morning, always seemed to be a sure thing.
I am not here to argue that Manuel is the best manager who ever lived. He is a product, like all of them, of the ability of his players. There are times when his gut instinct about a situation plays out well and he looks like a genius. There are other times when something happens in a game and it doesn't work out and you scratch your head. His gut is right more than often enough, but that isn't what this is about.
The hardest thing in sports is to manage veteran talent. If you are a manager and you don't have players, it's really never your fault. You can dazzle people with your double-switches and win a game or two along the way, but that's really it -- and when it goes bad, as if inevitably will over 162 games, you might get fired but the people in the business know you never had a chance.
But if you have talent, it's different. As a manager, you can get in the way. Over a long season, you can become an irritant. In eight months, you can create an atmosphere that makes a very hard game even harder. I know people right now are thinking that I'm talking about Larry Bowa, but he is a handy example only because he is local. This isn't about him. The sport is full of people who, whether because of ego or insecurity or personality quirks or lack of knowlege, become an impediment to excellence. You see it in every business, every day of the week, and you see it in baseball.
Here is the point: Manuel never gets in the way. Yes, he has an ego -- the recognition of his stature within the game, a stature confirmed by this new contract, is important to him, no doubt -- but the ego never seems to intrude on the work. He has enough self-assurance and respect for someone else's expertise that he allows Rich Dubee to run the pitching staff with a very, very free hand. He has enough experience with just how hard the game is, and he conveys that empathy to his players during the inevitable hard times. He does the meeting thing infreqently enough that it is still meaningful to the players when he clears his throat. And in a world defined by artifice, he seems real -- both when he talks to the public and he talks to the players.
So I don't know exactly what took so long, but this day was coming. There was no way Manuel was leaving Florida without a new deal. The uproar if Manuel had reached Opening Day without a contract extension would have been enormous, and rightfully so.
Now you can get back to worrying about Chase Utley.