LOS ANGELES - The first time Charlie Manuel was in a dugout at Dodger Stadium for big-time October baseball, he didn't do much more than just watch, which pretty much sums up Manuel's tenure as a big-league player.
Charlie was a member of the Dodgers organization, but he hadn't been placed on the roster for the 1974 World Series. He was near the end of an undistinguished career in the majors, one that lasted parts of six seasons and yielded fewer that 400 total at-bats for the brawny, homespun outfielder.
He couldn't have known it at the time, but his career would be revived in the Japan League, and he would play another half-dozen years before returning to the United States and beginning a long trek through the minor leagues as a coach and manager.
In life and in baseball, Manuel was never given a silver-spoon ride. He worked for what he got and passed through a number of organizations that either didn't think anything special of him or didn't think of him very often at all.
"Charlie's a lifer," Joe Torre, the current Los Angeles manager, said fondly of Manuel after the Phillies had dismissed the Dodgers in the 2008 National League Championship Series. Manuel had guided the Phillies smoothly through that series, and it was difficult to tell where the manager's confidence ended and the team's began.
"I have a great deal of respect for Charlie, because he's bounced around a little bit," Torre said, "and it's always the manager's fault [when] something goes wrong. But he's been able to prevail at this point."
Torre, once he got into organized ball, had a better trip than Manuel. He was a star, a most valuable player in the National League one season, an all-star nine times, and jobs were always going to be easier to find once he finished playing. In fact, Torre wasn't even finished when he began to manage, serving three weeks as player/manager for the Mets before taking his final at-bat.
In all, Torre has managed five teams since retiring, and he worked in the broadcast booth for another five years. He never spent a day paying dues at the minor-league level, never helped remove the tarp in some A-league backwater, never had to sell himself to the next organization.
It was Torre's good fortune that his fourth managing job in the major leagues made his career. His stints with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals were not that successful and, although Torre was respected, he was going to have to win somewhere pretty soon. He went to work for George Steinbrenner with the Yankees and, as the song says, if you make it there, you can make it anywhere. Torre was fortunate again that his hiring coincided with a glorious progression of talent onto the Yankees' roster, and the team made the postseason in all 12 years he managed it, winning six American League titles and four world championships.
He could have retired or gone back to broadcasting, but he went to Los Angeles instead, an unassailable icon at that point of his career. If the Dodgers didn't win, it wouldn't be perceived as his fault, which is a nice way to manage. Manuel, who was fired in Cleveland and took a while to click in Philadelphia, didn't have that kind of cachet. He left the Indians organization with some bitterness, not because the Indians made a change, but because they weren't willing to give him anything but a short, halfhearted contract extension. He wanted more - thought he had proved himself as a baseball man - it got heated, and he left, landing with Philadelphia in what was viewed as a hitting-caddie job for free-agent signee Jim Thome.
"Hey, Hoynsie, you here?" Manuel called out at his postgame news conference after the Phillies won the World Series, looking for longtime baseball writer and friend Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Why don't you go back to Cleveland and tell them we won a World Series, all right?"
He didn't necessarily mean it to come out nasty, but he meant it to come out. In some ways, he's the same guy who waited through all those games on the bench, sure he could get in there and get it done if they would only give him a chance. He was still June's boy, and he had the same confidence in himself that she had in him. At night, back home in downstate Virginia, she would twist the radio dial to find his games and send that belief back through the modulated ether. He was playing on the Coast one night with the Twins against the Angels and facing Nolan Ryan. Charlie's brother Roger gently suggested she should turn it off and call it a night. She never did.
Manuel and Torre have both suffered private losses publicly. June died during the NLCS last year, and Manuel had to wait for a break in the schedule to attend his mother's funeral. Torre lost a brother to cancer during his seasons in New York. Both men have battled cancer themselves and emerged from the other side.
In some ways, baseball is a great equalizer. It doesn't care that one manager could hit and the other couldn't, or that one is a smooth communicator and the other unleashes sentences that couldn't be diagrammed by NASA. If 2008 proved nothing else, it proved that.
Now, they are back together again in October, the manager who got every break in his career - particularly being blessed with extraordinary talent - and the one who has gotten very few. The good thing about the game is that is almost biblical in its insistence that, eventually, the exalted are humbled and the guy at the end of the bench gets the spotlight now and then.
Same time, same place, different year. We'll see which team makes its manager smarter this time.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or email@example.com.
Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.