(Disguised) Blessings For Uncle Cholly

Charlie Manuel






Being a diehard sports addict makes one subject to lots of highs and lows that one has very little, if any, influence over. It’s quite the wild ride, and perhaps it’s even more outrageous when you’re a Philadelphia sports fan. I’m not saying that I recommend this type of addictive, vicarious life; I just try to do justice to what is when I ruminate on it.


What is is the continuation of a period of sustained lows. Sure, there are great games and spectacular plays to rejoice in, but the fortunes of all four of the professional teams have been in the dumper of late. While it is not unusual for at least three of the teams—of course, we have the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers all playing for us—to qualify for the postseason in a given calendar year, none of our teams have even been in the postseason since the 76ers’ short run in 2012. By modern standards, that’s a long drought—and a whole lot of down rides on the escalator. (Question: Should it still be called an escalator—or elevator, for that matter—when it only goes down?)


The Phillies, who from 2007 thru 2011 brought us the best stretch of winning baseball that most of us fans have ever seen, have hit upon hard times the last two seasons. Last year’s 81-81 record of mediocrity could be mostly explained away by injuries, but while injuries have hit us again this season, nobody expected the team to look so hopeless by the middle of August. Responding to the reality of a mostly aging team going nowhere, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. somewhat unceremoniously fired manager Charlie Manuel—not giving him the opportunity to finish the season, try to right the ship and perhaps preserve his job, which he has performed (all things considered) exceedingly well.


The firing of the man affectionately known as Uncle Cholly was blasted by the great majority of Phillies Nation. It wasn’t a great surprise that he would not return in 2014, and the naming of Ryne Sandberg as the next (for now, interim) manager also was hardly a shocker. Most fans reacted to the way in which it was done; indeed, after a rocky first year or so, Charlie Manuel had become a beloved figure around these parts, southern-fried accent and all. Depending on one’s age, he was a favorite father, brother, uncle, or perhaps, grandpa… or, for those of a certain vintage, son.


Being a sports fan means that we sometimes have to say tearful goodbyes to some of our favorite players, coaches and managers—often, before we’re prepared to do so. How and why they become de facto members of our own families—even if we’ve never even met them in most cases—may be a subject worthy of future exploration. For now, suffice it to say that Uncle Cholly did become a family member to so many of us —one that we hoped would not be cast aside and used as a scapegoat for the team’s severe downturn in performance.


At the same time, for whatever reasons, shortly after Manuel was replaced by Sandberg, the team seemed to wake up and start to play entertaining and winning (well, to some degree) ball again.


Two largely contradictory thoughts hit me almost simultaneously:

1. Charlie Manuel deserved much better from the Phillies.

2. What transpired may have been the best thing for the Phillies, the fans and especially Charlie Manuel.


If this conclusion is confounding, please follow the link to the column I wrote the other day for my friends at philly2philly.com. Hopefully, this rumination will clear things up, even if I’ll never be able to explain my Philly sports addiction to those who don’t suffer from it.


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