It was bittersweet. He deserved the moment, the acknowledgement, the applause, the praise. It was good to have Charlie Manuel around again, even for just one night, and even if that night also served as a painful reminder about what once was but no longer is.
Manuel can still make you smile. The speech he gave during his wall of fame ceremony was classic Charlie. It was perfect because of the imperfections. He mapped his own route down memory lane, complete with funny and abrupt turns, and he invited everyone along for one last journey. It was quite a trip. And then, having reached the end, he employed an old line one more time: “This is for Philadelphia.” It was, of course, the same sentiment he expressed when he addressed the crowd after the 2008 World Series parade. That was six years ago. It feels more like six decades.
When the Phillies and Manuel parted company last year — choosing to divorce before the season was over — it served as the ugly end to an otherwise pleasant union. All those playoff runs. All those consecutive NL East titles. The World Series win. The merciful termination of the city’s excruciating 25-year championship draught. That was a good era. But all things end, and change is eventually necessary. The idea, the implication, was that a new manager might help course correct an organization that had quite clearly lost its way.
So much for that.
On Aug. 14 of last year, the Phillies were 53-67. They were 20 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East. Only the Miami Marlins were worse. They were not a good team.
On Aug. 14 of this year, the Phillies are 53-68. They are 13 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East. No team in the division is worse. They are not a good team.
Charlie Manuel was the fall guy a year ago. It was bound to happen, even if it wasn’t fair (it wasn’t), even if it wasn’t his fault (it wasn’t), and even if it didn’t change anything (it didn’t). It happens to almost every coach/manager. When the losing starts and the breaks give out and the bus starts rolling downhill, someone gets thrown under the tires. That someone, sadly, was Manuel.
Barely a year later, people are already wondering if the bus will back up and roll over Ryne Sandberg next. In a recent FoxSports story, Ken Rosenthal outlined several managers and general managers who might be “sent packing.” You can probably guess which names landed at the top of his list in those respective categories. The piece even featured the obligatory photo of Ruben Amaro chatting with Sandberg.
Rosenthal noted how attendance has cratered (an average of 44,000 between 2009-12, to just north of 30,300 this season) and how things are not going well for the Phillies on any front. (No kidding.) Sandberg hasn’t done much to wow as a manager, and the well-publicized friction between him and certain players wasn’t a good look for him. But, like Manuel before him, there’s only so much he can be realistically asked to do. Maybe Sandberg hasn’t cleaned up the mess, but disaster was spilled all over the organization before he arrived.
The manager should play guys like Darin Ruf more and guys like Ben Revere and Dom Brown less, but beyond that there's only so much he can do. Sandberg inherited a team well past its prime. The Phillies have the fifth oldest team in baseball, and they’re really (really, really) close to having the oldest club. They’ve become a retirement home. They don’t hit well (26th in average, 27th in OBP, 28th in slugging). They don’t pitch well (17th in batting average against, 22nd in ERA). The the bench isn’t any good. And there is an alarming lack of talent in the farm system. It is a grim picture, and Sandberg had very little to do with the rendering.
Of the 52 managers in Phillies history, only 19 have failed to manage more than 200 games. Sandberg is currently one of them. Lee Elia got 254 games even though he had had .439 winning percentage. Nick Leyva got 338 games even though he had a .439 winning percentage. Frank Lucchesi got 399 games even though he had a .416 winning percentage.
It would be hard to imagine the Phillies cutting Sandberg loose. It’s not really the organization’s style. He should have a job — if he wants it. It would be hard to blame Sandberg if he doesn’t. Moving on to do something else probably sounds pretty good to him right about now. Maybe someone would even name a horse after him.