Always armed with a copy of Ted Williams’ book The Science Of Hitting and an affable personality, Charlie Manuel has seen and done it all in professional baseball.
Manuel, who is in his 52nd year in professional baseball of a career and owns a major league managerial record of 220-190, signed with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1963 out of Parry-McClure High School in Buena Vista. After signing, he played in the minor leagues with the Twins for six years before getting called up to the major leagues in 1969. In the majors, Manuel received sporadic playing time and was shuttled between the major and minor leagues. After spending parts of six years in the major leagues hitting, knocking four home runs, he decided to go overseas to continue his playing career. In Japan, Manuel had to make numerous adjustments both on and off the field.
“When I first went to Japan it was completely different from the Major Leagues in culture and style of play,” he said. “When I first went to Japan I was so uncomfortable it was unreal. Everything was different for me and I couldn’t sleep at night. It was hard to even order something to eat.”
Manuel was a quick study, as he hit 189 home runs in 6 seasons including 48 in 1980. He also became fully fluent in Japanese, overcoming the language barrier. Even though it was very difficult at times, Manuel is grateful now for his experience in Japan.
“It taught me a lot about a lot about myself and it taught me self-discipline,” he said. “If you wanted to play you had to practice and be on time; it was much more of a regiment and they practiced way harder than we ever did here.”
Virginia holds a special place in Manuel’s heart, as he grew up in Buena Vista and lived in Roanoke for 19 years.
“We moved to Buena Vista when I was in seventh grade and I have always thought that Virginia is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been with the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains,” he said. “I liked everything about it. I liked that there are four seasons and even before I moved to Roanoke I spent a lot of time in this area and also in Southwest Virginia. I’ve known a lot of people and I have always considered Virginia my home.”
Manuel’s experience in Japan partially led to his next career in the game as a hitting guru and eventually a major league manager. He credits one of his managers in Japan, Hiroshi Arakawa, along with major league managers Billy Martin and Walter Alston for teaching him the game.
“I learned different things from each different guy,” he said. “Walter Alston and Billy Martin taught me a lot about how to handle things.”
Manuel returned to the states after his career in Japan and was a scout for nine years in the Minnesota Twins organization before becoming a minor league manager in 1983. After managing in the minor leagues in the Twins system five years, Manuel was hired as the Cleveland Indians hitting coach in 1988. He returned to the minors after two years as hitting coach to manage in the Cleveland organization from 1990-1993, but he made his mark when he returned to the majors as the hitting coach from 1994-1999, becoming the manager of the club in 2000. Manuel credits his experience with the core of those Indians teams in the minors for advancing his career.
“Most of those Cleveland hitters from the mid ‘90s I had in the minor leagues,” he said. “The way those players played in the minor leagues played a huge role in me getting to the big leagues as a coach.”
The Indians of that era could certainly hit, as they led the American League in runs in 1994, 1995, and 1999. Manuel loved coaching and managing those groups of hitters and saw great depth in those teams.
“Those were what I called lineups,” he said. “People might not understand this and I tried to explain it when I was in Philadelphia, but when we set our lineup up we look for balance and we look for a good lineup up and down. If we were weak in one position we didn’t just forget about that position; we were looking to upgrade that bat at that position.
“Once you do that you have good balance in your lineup and you end up with a good offense. When I was hitting coach in Cleveland we had such a good bench with (Jeromy) Burnitz, (Brian) Giles, (Sean) Casey and (Richie) Sexson. In order to be a good team in the major leagues you have to have an attitude and a philosophy of winning, but at the same time it’s talent and depth that carries you all the way through the season.”
After leaving Cleveland in 2002, Manuel went on to manage the Philadelphia Phillies from 2004-2012. He achieved great fame in Philadelphia for winning five division titles in a row from 2007-2011 and, in what Manuel calls “the greatest accomplishment of my career,” winning the 2008 World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays. That 2008 team was led by a dynamic offense that scored 799 runs, finishing second in the National League in that category. He had another “lineup” there, as the team was strong and balanced offensively.
“For five years with the Phillies we had tremendous lineups,” he said. “Our best lineup was when we had (Pat) Burrell and (Jayson) Werth to hit behind (Ryan) Howard and (Chase) Utley with Jimmy Rollins and (Shane) Victorino hitting at the top of the lineup. We could steal second, steal third and then score on a ground ball. We also had Michael Bourn sitting on the bench and played one of the best little ball games in all of baseball.
“Werth and Utley could also run, but we had a team of power hitters who were also on-base guys like Werth and Burrell. They took a lot of pitches and had about 100 walks each so we had good balance. We beat people a lot of different ways.”
One of the major stars of that team was Chase Utley, who is known for his all-out style of play. Manuel loved having him as a player, comparing him to Kirby Puckett.
“Kirby Puckett was my favorite player before I had Utley,” he said. “Utley was always prepared, put a lot into it, and demanded a lot of himself. Utley could care less if he had attention, but if you wanted to say something good about him he thought that was a lot better than him saying something good about himself. It wasn’t even close who spent the most hours out of all the hitters I have ever coached in the video room; it was Utley.”
Leadership is a tough thing to measure from afar, but Manuel says that the Philadelphia media always tried to tell him whom his leaders were. In his estimation, he had two true player leaders who stood out among the rest in Philadelphia.
“The whole time I was in Philly we had one vocal leader; that was Aaron Rowand, who came over from the White Sox,” he said. “He was the guy who would look at you and say, ‘What are you doing!’ and set you in line if you did something that he didn’t like. He would also get the manager involved with it. (Chase) Utley was always a leader. He was quiet and he led by example. Getting to know Utley, if he didn’t like something he would pull you aside and have lunch with you. He would talk about professionalism and what was required and how you should be playing. He was very good at that, but also if you did something wrong he had the respect of the players enough that he could just stare and look at you and send you a message.”
While Manuel loved his time managing, hitting has always been his true passion. While he tries his best to teach his pupils the art of hitting, he does not think there is a Charlie Manuel clone in the baseball world.
“I don’t think there is one guy out there who has my philosophy of hitting,” he said. “I work with you individually and what you think you are as a hitter and what I think you are. I am going to do whatever I can do to get you to be the best hitter possible. If I had two players sitting here I might not let one guy even listen to what I tell the other guy because I might tell him the exact opposite. I want you to play to your strengths and I want you to master your hitting.”
Manuel was inspired by the man whose book he said he has at least ten copies of, Ted Williams. Williams, despite being one of the greatest if not the greatest hitter to ever live, always made time for Manuel.
“Every time I saw Ted Williams he used to talk to me,” he said. “When I was in rookie ball with Greg Nettles, Ted Williams was the manager in Washington and he used to come out and work with us because we were left-handed hitters. Billy Martin was my manager and he used to get mad because Williams would work with us and tell him to leave us alone. I could see Williams down on the street and he would stop me and start talking about hitting. He always called me Bush; he called everybody Bush (Bush in those days meant bush-leaguer, or a minor leaguer.)
“I used to start talking to him about his book and he would get mad and loud and say ‘A sports writer wrote that!’ I would say to him that in that book it says you teach an uppercut. He would say ‘I don’t teach no uppercut!’ and he would get really upset. I loved talking to him. He was before his time.”
Manuel is still in his time even at 71 years old, as he currently serves as a special advisor to the General Manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. He will also serve as a coach in Spring Training for the Phillies, where he will continue to teach the art of hitting.
Through all his years managing in the minors and majors, Manuel had one goal.
“My philosophy has always been about winning,” he said. “Some people in the minor leagues said it was all about development but if you are a major league prospect and want to be a major league player then winning should definitely be in your resume.”
To get the W’s on the stat sheets, Manuel knew he had to do plenty of work off the field with his players.
“If you were my player you were going to get to know me and I was definitely going to get to know you,” he said. “Communication was the biggest thing; I wanted to be trustworthy and consistent everyday. I had a very high passion for the players and I was fortunate to always be around talented players.
“We had quite a bit of success and it was something that I loved to do. I would never tell this to a player, but I always put him first. I liked to bring players into my office and look them straight in the eye and tell them who I am and what it is all about and give them choices on who they wanted to be.”