PHILADELPHIA — Second baseman Chase Utley walked into Charlie Manuel’s office for a conversation Friday afternoon, just as he had done countless times during Manuel’s tenure as the winningest manager in Phillies history.
This talk was different. They spoke for the final time as manager and player. The Phillies’ performance since the All Star break — 19 losses in 24 games — came up.
“I said, ‘Chase, (5-19) ain’t good,’ ” Manuel said. “It ain’t good at all.”
That record cost Manuel his job. The Phillies fired Manuel on Friday afternoon before they played the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. Philadelphia named third-base coach and Hall of Fame player Ryne Sandberg interim manager. The Phillies offered Manuel an unspecified job in the organization.
Manuel, 69, did not leave bitter.
“Philadelphia has been the highlight of my career,” he said. “I love everything about the fans. I love the city.”
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the move was made in the interest of the team’s future.
“You people may not know the relationship I have with Charlie,” Amaro said while fighting back tears. “He’s a special person. This is difficult for me. I hope he stays in our organization.”
Amaro and Manuel both said the Phillies knew Wednesday that Manuel would be fired. The two spent the past several days talking about the club’s future.
“I got tired of having coffee with (Amaro),” Manuel said with a laugh.
Manuel is in the final year of his contract, and during their conversations of the past few days Amaro told Manuel that he would not be rehired at the end of the season. The two then decided it was better to part ways now.
“I didn’t see any reason we should drag it out and let him sit for the next 40 games knowing he wouldn’t be manager beyond this season,” Amaro said. “I didn’t think that was fair to him.”
Manuel made it clear he did not resign.
“I did not quit,” he said. “I never quit nothing.”
The Phillies hired Manuel in November 2004. He led Philadelphia to five straight division titles from 2007-11. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, only the second title in club history. The fans chanted “Charlie! Charlie!” during the victory celebration.
The Phillies also reached the World Series in 2009, losing to the New York Yankees. Manuel finished his Phillies career with a record of 780-636 for a .551 winning percentage. In addition to holding the Phillies record for most career wins, Manuel holds the single-season mark of 102 victories set in 2011. Before coming to the Phillies, Manuel also managed the Cleveland Indians. His overall career record is 1,000-826 .548). He is the 59th manager in baseball history to win at least 1,000 games, with the milestone victory having come Monday night in Atlanta, 5-1.
But the Phillies had struggled since the start of last season. They finished 81-81 last season. They began Friday 53-67, tied for the third-worst record in the National League.
But worse than the record was how the Phillies were playing. The team seemed listless and appeared as if it didn’t care the past few weeks. There were television shots of players laughing in the dugout while the team was losing.
“I think a new face, a new voice, a new look, it might help us,” Manuel said. “Our team hasn’t been playing too good, as you know. I definitely wanted to put my team and also the Philadelphia Phillies above myself.”
The move surprised the players. But at the same time, both the players and Manuel noted that the games go on.
Pitcher Cole Hamels said Manuel was like a father to the players.
Utley said Manuel means a lot to him because the manager made him an every-day player.
“Charlie didn’t strike out,” Utley said. “Charlie didn’t make an error. All he did was come to the ballpark every day with an attitude to win. We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”
Reporters asked Utley if firing Manuel was the right move.
“I’ve always said I wanted to play for Charlie Manuel my entire career,” Utley responded.
Manuel handled his firing with grace and class during a news conference. That attitude made it easier for Amaro and the rest of the Phillies' leaders.
Manuel said he didn’t know if he would accept the club’s offer to remain in the organization.
He is a baseball lifer. He joked that he wished he could have worn his uniform to Friday’s news conference.
Manuel always could be seen with his arms resting on the cage as the Phillies took batting practice before a game. His customary spot was empty Friday.
When he first came to Philadelphia, he wasn’t popular. Fans questioned his strategy. Some media members poked fun at him because of his Southern drawl.
But he won people over with victories. Following Friday's media session, Manuel walked out of the ballpark carrying a Wawa plastic bag.
“The only thing I’m mad about,” he said, “is that they took the best seat in the house away from me. I enjoyed everything about it.”
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