Charlie Manuel would have made a great sage. Fortunately, as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, he regularly gets to share his wisdom and insights.
Because of his unassuming demeanor, his discernment is often overlooked in favor of the more pressing strategies and nitty-gritty details of running the ball club. His philosophy is simple, effective and best summed up in five words: “One day at a time”.
Taking each day as it comes is perhaps even more relevant for Manuel, considering his birth took place unexpectedly in a car in January of 1944. As the third of eleven children, Manuel’s focus on the immediate and his determined nature may have been born out of necessity.
When his father committed suicide in 1963, Manuel, who was 19 at the time, took responsibility for the care of his mother and siblings. This came at a point in his life when he already had a family of his own.
One might wonder how he had time for sports, yet he was talented enough to be offered a basketball scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania which he declined.
Baseball teams were also interested in the young Manuel’s abilities. The Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers pursued him. Ultimately, he signed with the Minnesota Twins for $30,000 in 1963, and joined them out of high school.
Manuel’s baseball career languished in the United States. However, in 1976, he received an offer to play in Japan. It was a move that would turn his baseball life around.
There, he enjoyed tremendous popularity for his all-out type of play and his power hitting capability. His playing days, however, were cut short by injuries and “the Red Devil” (as he was affectionately known to Japanese fans) ended his playing career in 1981.
Considered one of the best non-native Japanese players, Manuel departed the country having learned, among other things, to speak Japanese. His career statistics included 189 home runs, 491 RBIs and a .303 average.
Returning to the United States, he spent time managing in the minor leagues as well as a brief stint at the helm of the Cleveland Indians. In 2004, he was hired to manage the Phillies. The rest is well-recorded history.
What’s less known is the essence of the man.
Manuel watches CNBC throughout the day so he can check on the stock market and carries his laptop so he can visit websites that deal in rare coins. He knows his way around a kitchen and possesses a self-deprecating sense of humor.
He is also a player’s manager.
Despite his unassuming demeanor, players respect Manuel and know he can be hard-nosed when the situation warrants it. Importantly, they can also rest assured that he will never embarrass them in front of teammates or in public.
Unlike his public persona which often seems rather bumbling, he is truly an intelligent and savvy manager. Not surprisingly, Manuel has a Zen quality. During his years in the Far East, he acquired the secret to a calm and meditative life. He left Japan not only having learned the language but something spiritual as well, which he readily passes along to his players.
Manuel emphasizes the need for players to quiet their minds, think less about themselves and more about the task at hand and the success of the team.
In the highly competitive and ego-driven world that can be professional sports, it’s a practice that has served Manuel well. The combination of attributes he brings to his position as Phillies skipper is well-rounded and unique. Namaste.