My Sportsman: Charlie Manuel
About an hour and a half after the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, and with every last bit of champagne and beer either spilled or consumed, just about all that remained in a dry state around the Phillies' clubhouse was their manager,
"I'm a baseball guy," Manuel told a skeptical Philadelphia media corps upon being introduced as the Phillies manager in November of 2004. "I live and sleep baseball."
Seeing Manuel quietly celebrate only the second world championship in franchise history, I immediately wondered, How many thousands of Charlie Manuels are out there? How many men give their lives to baseball out of love, not glory? How many of them devote the best years of their lives out of the camera's range, teaching the game while always wanting to learn more about it themselves? Manuel was lucky enough to get the winning lottery ticket -- a World Series trophy -- but he was still just another baseball guy, not very different from the scout squeezing another 50,000 miles out of his beater car, the minor league coach throwing another 400-pitch batting practice in the brutal midsummer heat in Florida or even the high school coach missing another dinner at home to work just a little longer with his kids. Such men are the backbone of the game.
Charlie Manuel never won a gold medal or a manager of the year award. Never has he been called a "genius" or an "innovator." Corporate America would not prefer his kind of elocution for motivational speeches. (When asked about his famous run-in with a Philadelphia radio host, Manuel said, "I don't want to hash it.") There is nothing fancy about the guy. And that is why Manuel is my choice for Sportsman of the Year. He is a proxy for all those baseball lifers who love what they do. He also is proof that success does not require a good and honest man to change.
Manuel's story is remarkably without ego or privilege. In the western Virginia hills Manuel grew up poor and he grew up fast, especially from that day his father,
At age 38 Manuel, then finished as player, was sitting at home one week before the 1982 spring training camps were to open. He was unsure about what he might do next.
For the next 18 years Manuel plugged away as a minor league coach, minor-league manager (for 1,198 games) and major league hitting coach before all those dues earned him a big league managing job, with the Indians. He was fired in his third year and landed an advisory job with the Phillies before getting a second crack at managing.
The Charlie Manuel that won the World Series was the same Charlie Manuel who, while coaching at Wisconsin Rapids in the bush leagues, took so much batting practice that visiting teams filed scouting reports on him. There was, however, one difference: Manuel won the World Series without his mama.
In the clinching game, good ole Charlie from Buena Vista, Va., outflanked his opposing manager,
"I wasn't working on trying to prove nothing," ole Charlie said. "Don't take this in a cocky way. I already knew how good I was."