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Manuel wins one for the common man

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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PHILADELPHIA

A couple years ago when baseball's general managers were gathered for their annual meeting at a posh resort in Naples, Fla., a group of writers slipped out for a quick bite to eat at the nearby Steak 'N' Shake. When they walked in the front door, they were greeted by Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, who seemed a lot more comfortable with his burger and fries than trying to figure out which fork to use on which part of his meal served on china in some dimly lit room at the resort. Manuel is baseball's common man. A native of West Virginia who grew up in rural Virginia, the 64-year-old Manuel talks with that heavy drawl in run-on sentences. He has been known to mangle a pronunciation or two. Now, however, baseball's best kept secret is becoming a household name. The common man has reached a rare level of baseball success. He managed the Phillies to only the second world championship in the history of the 125-year-old franchise. He claims it's not validation of his ability. "I wasn't working on trying to prove nothing," he said. "Don't take this in a cocky way, I already know how good I was." Coming from Manuel, it doesn't sound cocky. It sounds basic. And it is the truth. But don't be too naive. Manuel has feelings, just like everybody else, and there's nothing like managing a baseball team to get those feelings ruffled. And even Manuel let is guard down in the aftermath of that 4-3 Game 5 victory that began on Monday and ended on Wednesday, giving the Phillies the world championship over the Tampa Bay Rays. There was that moment where he thought back to his first big-league managerial opportunity, with Cleveland, where his team won 90 games his first year (2000) but didn't make the playoffs, won the AL Central in 2001 and then fired him 86 games into his third year. "Hoynsie," Manuel said to Cleveland Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes, "I'll ask you something. Why don't you go back to Cleveland and tell them that we won a World Series, all right? OK?" And there was that moment when his mind shuffled through what has now been four years in Philadelphia, where he has become only the second manager in franchise history to win back-to-back division titles, but more than once has become a target of disgruntled fans, and impatient columnists and talk show hosts, who have demanded his dismissal. "Until you win something a lot of times you're going to be criticized, especially when you are losing or when you don't get off to a good start," said Manuel. "Sometimes it is hard to take. Sometimes it's personal. At the same time that's part of being mentally tough, and also it's part of being a professional. And those are the things you have to handle in the job." Consider those things handled well by Manuel. These Phillies are a reflection of the manager, starting with the closer, Brad Lidge, a whipping boy for his former Houston manager, Phil Garner, who said his comfort level expanded drastically the first day he talked to Manuel, and was assured he was going to get the ball in the ninth inning for better or worse. It was all better, no worse, for Lidge in Philadelphia, where he ran off 48 consecutive successful saves, capped off by the final three outs against the Rays on Wednesday night. That's all 41 chances he had in the regular season, and all seven in the postseason, including Games 1 and 5 against the Rays. Not bad for a guy whose situation was so precarious in Houston that when he blew his first save opportunity for the Astros in 2007 he was jerked out of the closer role in what became a season of in-and-out. And it pretty much had been that way ever since the 2005 postseason, when instead of focusing on what he had done to help the Astros advance to the World Series for the first time in his history, the attention was on the home runs he gave up to Albert Pujols in the NLCS and Scott Podsednik of the White Sox in the World Series. "You hear people talk about a change of scenery," said Lidge, "Now I know what they mean. I have a (manager and coaching) staff that believe in me and are not worried about if I blow one (save). They let me know right away I'd be pitching the ninth, and if I fell down I'd have to get up and go back out there. That's all you can ask for." And it started with Manuel, whose playing career included 1,060 games in the minors, 366 big-league at-bats and six years in Japan, and whose managerial career began with nine years in the minor leagues. He did play in two ALCS with the Twins, pinch-hitting once each against Baltimore in 1969 and 1970. And he did manage two league championship teams in the minors -- at Colorado Springs in 1992 and Charlotte in 1993. Now he has a World Series championship on his resume, too. And even Manuel admits that is special. "It means everything to me," he said. "You see people and they got a (world championship) ring on and everybody wants to see that ring. It's a symbol that you are a winner. "Dallas Green is a good example of that. If you ask him, the biggest thing he ever did in baseball he would say, 'People calling me a winner.' Why? Because he got a ring where he managed and won a World Series (for the Phillies in 1980). In baseball, when someone asked me what I want to be known as, I want to be known as a winner." Mission accomplished. Baseball's common man has reached the level of the elite. He's a champion.
Tagged: White Sox, Astros, Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies, Rays, Scott Podsednik, Albert Pujols, Brad Lidge

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