PHILADELPHIA — The day the Phillies fired the most successful manager they have employed in their 130-year existence, Charlie Manuel wore his uniform and managed. His miserable team again lost after a two-hour rain delay, another pitcher was injured, and Manuel hid his heartbreaking secret from the world. That was Wednesday, two days before Manuel sat in the basement of Citizens Bank Park and faced his termination with aplomb.
He wore blue slacks and a pink dress shirt Friday instead of No. 41 in white pinstripes. “I would have wore it over here today if I could have,” he said. There will be no more 10 a.m. arrivals to work, no more afternoon power walks around empty stadiums, no more lineups to construct.
Manuel carried a Wawa bag and departed through a service exit Friday afternoon while his players prepared for baseball with Ryne Sandberg and without Manuel. For almost nine years, Manuel oversaw the finest success this franchise has ever experienced. His tenure ended with 42 games remaining in a cursed season.
“I’m mad because they took the best seat in the house away from me,” Manuel said. “And I’ve been sitting there watching the games every day, watching the Phillies play, something that I love. I’ll just leave it right there. That’s how I feel about it. I enjoyed everything about it.”
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. informed Manuel, during a series of recent coffee chats in Washington and Atlanta, that the team would not renew his contract following 2013. “Where are we going?” Manuel asked his boss. The Phillies knew for months.
Amaro “toiled” with the decision but decided it was best not to “drag it out.” He read from prepared notes Friday. He cried. Then, he patted Manuel on the back.
“This isn’t a blame game,” Amaro said. “I’m not here to blame Charlie Manuel for our issues. I think we all have some responsibility in that regard. My job is to think about what we can do to get better in the future, and I believe this is one of the steps to try to move this thing forward.”
The team’s executives carefully chose their words. But Manuel, 69, was fired. The prideful baseball lifer was both pragmatic and steadfast.
“I didn’t resign and I did not quit,” Manuel said. “Let me tell you something: I’ve never quit nothing.”
Sandberg, 53, has long been viewed as his successor. He was installed only as “interim manager.” The Phillies will use these meaningless games as a chance to evaluate Sandberg. Wins and losses probably will not matter; no manager can win with this depleted roster.
His reign began at 3:11 p.m. when Sandberg stepped into the room Manuel vacated, looked at a dais, and asked, “Am I here?” Billionaire John Middleton, one of the team’s mysterious silent owners, was among the first to greet Sandberg when he stepped onto the field shortly before 4 p.m.
Manuel’s termination elicited strong emotions. Cole Hamels called Manuel “like a father to a lot of us.” Chase Utley, a man Manuel held in the highest regard, said, “I wanted to play for Charlie Manuel my whole career.” Former Phillies postseason legend Matt Stairs tweeted that Manuel’s firing “leaves a sick feeling in my stomach.”
“I thought he deserved better,” former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth told Washington reporters. “That’s about all I want to say on that.” He then spoke about Manuel for 15 minutes.
Manuel’s last victory, Monday in Atlanta, was the 1,000th of his career. He guided the Phillies to five straight National League East titles. He went 780-636 (.551) in nine seasons, one of which ended with the franchise’s second World Series championship. He was an ambassador for the organization and its city.
The Phillies offered him a new position within the organization. Manuel said he needs time to think. His longtime companion, Missy Martin, drove him from the ballpark to their South Jersey home. Manuel expected to watch Friday’s game on TV.
Come Saturday morning, when it is summer and Charlie Manuel’s presence at a ballpark is not mandatory, that anger may beget sorrow.
“I figure I’ll get up real early,” Manuel said, “get to the ballpark and get out of here before people get here.”