Hall of Fame case for Charlie Manuel
On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.
Our final nominee: Charlie Manuel
The case for his induction:
He won a World Series, two pennants and had a fantastic .537 winning percentage in 12 seasons as a big league manager. If you don’t count his two partial seasons in which he was dismissed in mid-stream -- 2002 with the Indians and 2013 with the Phillies -- he never had a losing season. Despite all of that success, there’s a good argument that he was underrated, with his employers not giving him full credit for his teams’ success and giving him too much blame for his teams’ failures. Why else would he be fired in mid-season when coming off of very good previous year in Cleveland? In Philly he was let go a year and a half after a 102-win season, as his roster was aging and beginning to be plagued with injuries. I’m not saying it was a crazy injustice that he was fired in those cases, but a lot of managers get more rope than Cholly ever got.
The case against his induction:
His 1,000 career wins as a manager is a nice round number, but it’s also a very low number compared to almost every Hall of Fame manager. Indeed, every single Hall of Fame manager below Manuel on the win list made it there because of either their playing exploits (Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, etc.) or for other accomplishments (Branch Rickey, Charlie Comiskey). To find a pure Hall of Fame manager, as opposed to a guy who made it based on playing and managing, you have to go nearly 300 wins above Manuel to Whitey Herzog. Now, to be clear, this isn’t Manuel’s fault -- he didn’t get a chance to manage in the bigs until he was 56 years-old, which is a pretty darn late start -- but absent cases involving baseball’s color line, you can’t credit a Hall of Fame candidate for stuff he didn’t do in the bigs.
Also working against Manuel, perversely, is just how talented his teams were in Cleveland and Philly. Multiple Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers played for Manuel and many, many more All-Stars did too. Alomar. Thome. Utley. Halladay. Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels. You get the idea. We tend to think more of managers who did more with less. Manuel did a lot -- remember, he won a World Series and two pennants -- but he did that with the sort of talent that most managers would kill to have. Could someone else have done what he did with that talent? Could someone else have done more? I don’t know, but they’re fair questions to ask when assessing Manuel’s bonafides. They’re also the questions those owners and general managers who did not give Cholly all that much rope were probably asking themselves. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a lot of managers would’ve won the games Manuel won with the kind of talent he had.
Would I vote for him?
I really liked Manuel as a manager. I loved his temperament and think he made the right moves more than he made bad moves. There was rarely a lot of drama on Manuel-led teams, even with some big personalities on the roster. That’s a really important trait for a manager, even if it’s hard to measure. I also think that back in 2013, when he was canned by Philly, it might’ve been worth it for some other team to give him the reins over whatever young, pretty and inexperienced former catcher or whatever they actually hired. That said, I have a hard time giving a Hall of Fame plaque to a guy with only 10 full seasons in the dugout. A great resume for what it is, but not a lengthy enough resume for my tastes.
Will the Committee vote for him?
I kind of doubt it, for much the same reason that would keep me from voting for him. This is especially true when Lou Piniella, whose resume is way stronger, is on the ballot. The Veterans Committee, in all of its forms, tends to favor managers and executives over players, so it wouldn’t totally shock me if he got the nod, but I wouldn’t bet a ton of money on it.