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Thursday, October 5, 2006

Manuel Stays

This time last year I was ok if Ed Wade was or wasn’t fired by the Phillies. Then Pat Gillick came along, and demonstrated how a real general manager does his job.

I almost felt the same way about whether or not the Phils retained Charlie Manuel. I absolutely think the guy gets a bum wrap by a media that simply doesn’t like the way he speaks. Lots is said about his inability to make a double-switch. I think once early on in 2004 the career American League manager admitted to messing up a double-switch, and guys like Howard Eskin have harped on it since. (By the way, knowing Manuel was in the A.L. so long, where were all the other coaches that night? Not that he should’ve needed them.)

Of course, the recently retained Manuel doesn’t exactly instill confidence. He allowed his friendship with Jim Thome to delay Ryan Howard’s emergence. He asked Bobby Abreu to lead-off instead of simply doing what he knew was right, and backed off when Abreu essentially declined. He inexplicably dropped Jimmy Rollins in the lineup for one game, and again rescinded the much-needed move presumably for similar reasons. Baseball lifers love to talk about the daily grind; trying a move like that for one day makes no sense.

All signs point to the players’ loving to play for the guy, and that counts for something these days. But two putrid starts to the season under Manuel have cost this team the playoffs twice despite late surges. Of course, they hated Larry Bowa, and the same core group of players did the same thing.

Maybe a little more of the Manuel that ripped the team, as he did mid-season in Florida to ignite the Phils that night and beyond, and a little less of the Manuel that asks guys where they’d be willing to bat can work. Maybe a new manager would’ve come in and made it obvious Manuel was the problem, the way Gillick did with Wade.

I’m not sure this was the right move, but I’m ok with it. The problem is that Gillick doesn’t seem sure about this move either. Reports are Gillick strongly suggested coaching changes before bringing Manuel back, and didn’t extend the manager’s contract beyond next year.

Another slow start could mean a quick hook for Manuel in 2007. The Phils dropped a ton of salary at the trade deadline. Gillick deserves loads of credit for actually making the team better in the process. Now he needs to show he can spend that money. To help them out, here’s what I want to see next year:

· Add a starting pitcher to Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Jamie Moyer. If Jon Lieber bounces back it needs to be a luxury.
· Get a closer that isn’t close to getting his AARP card. Tom Gordon’s not the guy.
· Let Shane Victorino lead-off and find a way to get Michael Bourne in more games to get speed on the bases. The Phillies were 15th in stolen bases this year, which is better than I thought, but even with the small park sitting back waiting for home runs can kill a team.
· Rollins hit 25 homers, fourth on the team. Put him behind Howard if you can’t sign a slugger, and let him hack away at better pitching.
· I’m not a Pat Burrell hater, but, for his and the team’s sake, move him.

I’d like to thank Cincinnati Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis for benching Chris Henry against a beat-up New England secondary to help my pitiful week of picks end up 1-2. I need a strong week to stay above .500. I’m taking St. Louis –3, Baltimore +4, Washington +4, and Kansas City –3.5.

Eagles. Remember life before T.O.? Me neither. Anyway, yes, he returns this week. Zzzzzzz. My biggest hope is Birds’ fans don’t give Philadelphia another black eye, though I’d lay points on the other side of that one. But with Brian Westbrook iffy, I wouldn’t lay points on the Eagles. If he and Donte' Stallworth play, lay the 2, otherwise stay away. It could get ugly.

Week in Review:
· The Sixers are in Europe for training camp. (I’ll avoid the obvious joke suggesting they stay.) As much as I like Jim Lynam being back as an assistant, I just cannot get excited about this team.
· The Flyers opened up tonight (a 4-0 shut out loss). Wake me in April.
· Is it just me, or did the NFL screw up giving Monday Night Football to ESPN? Tony Kornheiser keeps exposing Joe Theismann as a dud in the booth, but he doesn’t do much else. Mike Trico’s ok, but he’s no Al Michaels. Plus, MNF never needed any hype, and ESPN floods their station with ads for it. By the time the game’s on, it’s like an afterthought.
· In case you missed it here in Philly, the baseball playoffs went on as scheduled. So far, I don’t think there have been any surprises. I know St. Louis was close to collapse, but their “underdog” status against a Padre team that outlasted the Phillies seemed odd. I didn’t know much about Oakland, but it’s not exactly a shock they might take down Minnesota. Despite Detroit’s win today, a Mets vs. Yankess World Series seems inevitable.
· Apparently Stephen A. Smith took on Brandon Lang last night on his show, Quite Frankly. How they got the two egos in the same show I’ll never know. Today, Lang — the man always on a streak no matter how narrowly he needs to define one — called Smith a racist in his daily free pick video. If you know of a video link, PLEASE send or post it.

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