The Zen of Charlie

When Charlie Manuel was first hired as Phillies manager before the 2005 season, I was, like many Philadelphia fans, skeptical at best. Soon the skepticism turned to anger. There were baseball reasons for sure: His in-game strategy was often ridiculous. He didn’t seem to know when to take a pitcher out; he seemed confused about double-switches, sacrifices, and bunting. Did he even know the rules?

Then there was Charlie, the man. He didn’t exactly inspire confidence to those of us who wanted a manager to sound like he knew what he was doing. Manuel was a bumbling Elmer Fudd. When he talked, his words rolled out in a stuttering, Appalachian mess. He was sometimes incomprehensible. He seemed almost comically stupid. When he went to the mound to make a pitching change, we booed him.

Since then, I’ve come to love Charlie’s hayseed elocution, so much so that last night he nearly made me cry. He had just led the Phillies to their first National League pennant in 15 years. Then he paid tribute to his mother who died on Monday.

“The last time I talked to her, she said, ‘Pray for me,’” Manuel said. “Then, she said, ‘Charles Jr., you’re going to win these games, and you’re going to go to the World Series.’ That’s the last thing she said to me.”

It seems ridiculous in a way to get choked up over this, but somehow Charlie’s manner is more affective to me than that of a great orator, or even a moderately articulate person. The transcript doesn’t quite do justice to the weird elocution (Look for Charlie videos here), the way Charlie sometimes speeds up while talking and runs right over the words, and the way that the words themselves seem odd. “Charles, Jr., You’re going to win these games.”

The speech patterns that I once found disarmingly stupid were now, buoyed by winning of course, disarmingly honest and sweet. Charlie never dissimulates, which makes him a rhetorical genius.

Manuel grew up in Buena Vista, Virginia, in the mountainous western part of the state about an hour north of Roanoke. He spent six years playing in the majors and six more playing professionally in Japan, which, he says, helped him to calm his fiery temper and to gain the patience he needed to be a manager.

“Japanese culture taught me there’s more to life than just me,” he said, explaining his hillbilly Zen. “that no one’s better than me, and I’m better than no one.”

“I started looking at everything that way,” he said.

Manuel, who has survived a heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery, an infected colon, and kidney cancer, has maintained his “Boona Vista” style through it all. He punctuates his phrases with abbreviated versions of “You know like” or “I mean like.”

After the game he said: “We’ve got three steps now, and, y’na like, we’ve got one more, and our ultimate goal is to win a World Series and now ah’mean like we got a chance, and that chance is all anyone can ask for, and we’re four games away.”


Go Phils!

I love how his head bobbles like a chicken when he walks out to the mound during a game. go phils!!

— joe the plumber    Oct 16, 04:18 PM    #


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