Charlie Manuel, True Philadelphian

He didn't start as one of us. But he surely ended as one.

The day the Phillies announced Charlie Manuel was fired, the photo of him leaving Citizens Bank Park was perfect.

It was perfect because the general reaction from Phillies fans to Manuel’s firing was sadness. It might seem odd that the 69-year-old manager of a team that went 5-19 since the All-Star Break would get such a sendoff, but a large segment of the fanbase wanted him to stay. Or, at least, they wanted general manager Ruben Amaro fired instead for assembling a team that two days after Manuel’s firing trotted out position players that would be hitting .167, .185 and .143 by the end of the game. But fairly or not, the coach or manager usually takes blame for these types of situations. I know people who had parties when Andy Reid was fired. And let’s be clear: They were banging parties.

The beat writers were nice, too. The Inquirer‘s Matt Gelb wrote a wonderful piece about covering Charlie Manuel the person. The Daily News‘ David Murphy laid the blame squarely on Amaro: “In other professions, the series of decisions that led to the firing of the most successful manager in Phillies history would be grounds for allegations of gross negligence.” CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury, who knows the Phillies as well as anyone, wrote “it should not have ended this way.”

The main local media personalities to bash Manuel on his way out were the polarizing figures like Howard Eskin and Angelo Cataldi, people whose strongest skills are audience engagement rather than sports analysis. (Um, and Roy Halladay appears to have also endorsed the firing.)

It’s worth noting that Charlie Manuel wasn’t always this beloved. Here’s The Morning Call‘s Stephen Mill in 2005: “The first-year manager, Charlie Manuel, has been skewered for botched double switches and not being Jim Leyland.” Mill predicted “the summer of discontent could span several seasons.” Salisbury, then with the Inquirer, wrote the next month: “Ever since the day he was hired, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been kicked around like an old football. … Many nights this season, Manuel has looked like a guy who just needed a break, or maybe a hug.” ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote in 2007: “Charlie Manuel may take the fall one of these months if this keeps up.” The Associated Press’ Rob Maaddi opened a March 2007 story with this: “Charlie Manuel had just emerged from the dugout before an exhibition game when a typical Philly fan greeted him with another insult. ‘Two words, Cholly: double switch!'” (Manuel famously struggled with the double switch, even well into his tenure.) After Manuel challenged him to a fight, Howard Eskin shared his disdain with the Inquirer: “This guy is one of the poorest managers in major-league baseball.”

The Phillies eventually started winning, and the disdain faded. But I don’t think that was the only reason why. (2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins has won even more than Manuel, and he gets as much crap as anyone.) Try as they might, sports beat writers almost can’t help but let their disdain for subjects they hate slip into their stories. That didn’t happen with Manuel. Even at a low point early on, the Inquirer was saying Manuel looked like he needed a hug. He was always nice to me after the goofy profile where I quoted him cursing in 2005, though admittedly it was largely sympathetic.

No one ever would have predicted it, but fans eventually started to love Manuel for his personality. His press conference after Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, where he said the Phillies weren’t stealing signs but that they were trying to, is legendary. He was gracious in defeat when the Phillies were eliminated the next game. He was a class act at his last press conference, too, only getting mildly angry when stressing he didn’t quit. He signed autographs at the mall the day after his firing. He frequented Ponzio’s, endearing himself to all of South Jersey as best I can tell. And I like to think that Phillies fans realized Manuel probably had a hard time understanding their accents, too. In that photo of him walking away on his last day, he’s carrying a bag from Wawa. And none of it seemed forced, or trying too hard: Charlie Manuel moved to this town and just fell into the typical, stupid, Philadelphia things you do when you live in the area.

Charlie Manuel is a great Philadelphia success story. He may not have been as good of a manager as people thought he was. Who cares? I think you’re cheating yourself if you think of him with a negative attitude. It’s not just that he was here for nine seasons and won the division in five of them. This guy from West Virginia nobody believed in not only managed the team to the World Series, he became a Philadelphian in the process.

And since every season since 2008 ended with him losing in the end, he really fits in with our sports history, too.