Inside the Phillies: No matter the circumstances, Charlie Manuel keeps winning

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In 10 years as a manager, Charlie Manuel has never had a team finish lower than third place. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

He sipped on a Diet Coke in the visiting manager's office at Minute Maid Park in Houston and lectured a group of reporters on pressure. Charlie Manuel had just reached the postseason for the fifth straight season, achieving a feat no manager of a Philadelphia baseball team had ever matched, and it was his chance to boast.

Yes, Charlie Manuel has an ego.

"I got more confidence in myself than you guys will ever know," he said. "I got an ego bigger than Houston. Seriously. Give me the players. That's what it's all about. It's the next best thing to playing. That's the part that drives you. Give me good players. I want to see if we can't win. That's good. If that's pressure, then that's good pressure."

The most remarkable thing about the last two seasons is that Manuel has not had the players he expected for a majority of the time. Just 33 times in the last 324 games has Manuel fielded what would be considered a regular lineup. He has used 199 different batting orders (not including the pitcher) in that span.

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And he has won 61 percent of those games, finished with the best record in baseball both times, plus tied a franchise record for wins.

"It's not easy to do," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "One of the things I find fascinating about these last several years is people expect it. And it is extremely difficult to win."

Manuel's legacy was sealed on a rainy night in October 2008, but he continues rewriting it. He's the winningest manager in franchise history with two more guaranteed seasons on his contract before only age forces him out of the dugout.

In his 10 years of managing, he has never had a team finish below third place. Six of his 10 teams have qualified for the postseason. Among managers with a least 10 seasons, Manuel's career .561 winning percentage ranks 12th. The 11 better than him are all in the Hall of Fame.

The narrative of Manuel's rise in a city that pegged him for failure has been told, retold, and told again. Perhaps now, after another historic season, it requires even more revision.

Manuel keeps winning no matter the circumstances.

"Someone asked me if I would take credit for all of the accolades," Manuel said. "No, not at all. There are a lot of things at play for me to achieve a winning record."

Or, as Brad Lidge said, "He does what he does, and whatever he's doing works."

Manuel did not receive manager of the year consideration for either 2010 or 2011 because his teams were supposed to win - and win a lot. The Phillies invested more money in those teams than they ever had before, but that did not preclude Manuel from having to actually manage through the perils of a 162-game season.

Consider this: In the last two seasons, the quartet of Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, Juan Castro, and Pete Orr started a total of 267 games for the Phillies. Chase Utley has started 214 games; Jimmy Rollins 220.

The Phillies' offensive output has fallen each season, and Manuel, so passionate about hitting, has squirmed while his team adopts different styles. But they still win.

"It's one of his greatest strengths, to be able to put guys in situations to have success," Amaro said. "He can really keep the ship steady when the sky is falling around us, like in this last losing streak, or when we lose Chase Utley for two months, or we lose Ryan Howard, or Chase has a concussion, or Jimmy misses most of the year last year. Charlie doesn't really get all caught up in that. We go out there, keep playing, and he believes in the guys who are playing."

That's because, his coaches say, Manuel sees everything. First base coach Sam Perlozzo, a member of Manuel's staff for three seasons, said the meetings the coaches have are more detailed than any he's been a part of. At times, he said, the coaches will just sit back and listen to Manuel talk uninterrupted.

"His answers amaze me," Perlozzo said. "It amazes me what comes out. He knows his team. He's got the right answers. He might not say it as eloquently as someone else, but he has the right answers. You can book that."

Perlozzo pointed to the recent series in Milwaukee, when the Phillies won the first three games with makeshift lineups. Manuel chose to rest an ailing Howard, didn't have Utley or Rollins, and wanted to keep Raul Ibanez fresh. So Valdez started all three; Martinez, Ben Francisco, and John Mayberry Jr. started two; and Orr played once. The Phillies averaged five runs per game.

"We, as a staff, go on the field wondering how we're going to win," Perlozzo said. "And son of a gun, we walk out of there with wins. He does not panic. He allows coaches to coach and players to play."

Since 2006, Manuel's teams have annually improved their win total from the previous season. How is it that a team that required so many starts from reserve players won 97 and 102 games in consecutive years? Perlozzo, a manager for three seasons in Baltimore, said everyone who steps foot in the clubhouse knows the standard set by Manuel.

"Our subs go in, they play, and we win," Perlozzo said. "That's his attitude that he's created around here. We just go about our business. It just doesn't seem to matter to us. I attribute that to him. The people who fill in do the job, and no one thinks a thing about it."

And before this run of success, no one thought Charlie Manuel and Hall of Fame could be uttered in a serious sentence. His brilliance is understated by his twang, and that suits him just fine.

After tying Gene Mauch for the franchise's win record, Manuel was asked if that achievement meant anything.

"That's like being second," Manuel said. "I want sole possession."

Everyone in the cramped visiting manager's office at Turner Field laughed, except for one person.

 


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.