After health scare, it's hittin' season again for Charlie Manuel

After health scare, it's hittin' season again for Charlie Manuel

It was 80 degrees in Central Florida when Charlie Manuel picked up the phone Tuesday morning.

Sounds like hittin' weather.

"It's always hittin' weather," the winningest manager in Phillies history said with a laugh.

Manuel is hunkered down at home with his wife, Missy. They are taking the coronavirus health crisis seriously for a couple of reasons. One, it's the right thing to do. And, two, they've come too far in recent months to chance anything.

"I'm very scared," Manuel said. "I'm staying in the house unless I go for a walk. We stay away from crowds.

"You appreciate the little things in life that count. Things like sitting in the sun. Taking a walk."

Back in December, a few weeks before his 76th birthday, Manuel went into the hospital for some scheduled surgery, essentially a follow-up to a procedure he'd had for a hernia a couple of years prior. There were serious complications. He developed a life-threatening infection. There was real worry he wouldn't make it out of the hospital.

"I was scared," Charlie said. "I looked up, all my grandkids and my kin were there. That got my attention."

Manuel has had bouts of kidney cancer and severe diverticulitis, and he's had heart issues, so his friends, many of them back in Philadelphia, were concerned for his condition. On Christmas Eve, John Middleton, the Phillies' managing partner, arranged for Manuel to travel by air to Philadelphia to continue his recovery. He was treated at Jefferson Hospital through the holidays and released. There was a serious setback and he was readmitted.

It wasn't until January 19, after 10 additional days at Jefferson and some time at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, that Charlie and Missy were able to return to Florida. The couple returned to Philadelphia for some scheduled follow-up work during the second week of March but is back in Florida now, soaking up some sun and counting their blessings.

"I've been taking morning walks with Missy," Charlie said of his greatest blessing. "We used to go five to seven miles. Now, we're doing about four. I have to pace myself."

Manuel began his professional baseball career in the summer of 1963 as a player in the Minnesota Twins organization. He attended in first spring training in 1964. Since then, he's missed only two spring trainings — 2014, after his nine-year run as Phillies skipper ended, and this year. He may have made it over to Clearwater for a few days toward the end of this spring training, but Major League Baseball halted all camps due to the coronavirus health crisis. The hope is that baseball will return again sometime in the coming weeks. If so, players will need a Spring Training Part 2 and Manuel plans to be there.

"When baseball cranks up again, I want to be ready," he said. "I miss being around the field. I miss the players. I miss talking baseball.

"I love working for the Phillies. I want to be able to help. I want to look and see the talent we have. I want to be a part of Phillies baseball and the community and communicate with fans."

During his downtime, Manuel has been reading about the Phillies. He likes the lineup and the things he's heard from new manager Joe Girardi.

"I always liked Joe," Manuel said. "I saw him as a player. I got to know him when he was in Miami and when we played in the World Series (in 2009). We managed All-Star teams against each other. I always liked his style and who he is. He's a real person. He's got experience. He's done everything in baseball. He's ideal for the Phillies, really. I thought that a couple of years ago when the Yankees first let him go." 

Manuel has also been watching a lot of old baseball games on TV.

He watched the perfect game that Dennis Martinez threw for Montreal against the Dodgers in 1991 and it made him feel good because Martinez is an old friend from Cleveland. Martinez pitched for the Indians when Manuel was that club's hitting coach.

He watched the classic playoff game between the Yankees and Mariners in 1995 and that stirred some great memories because not long after that game, the Indians, with Manuel leading the hitters, eliminated Seattle on their way to the World Series.

When Manuel is not watching baseball, he's talking about it.

And when there's no one around to talk with about the game, he goes looking for someone.

A few days ago, Manuel playfully asked Missy, his super-secret ghostwriter on Twitter, to ask the Twitterverse if anyone wanted to talk hitting. Patty Bowa, wife of Larry, saw the tweet and before long Charlie and Larry were talking baseball on a live stream for all to enjoy. It was great stuff.

Manuel and Bowa had long known each other through baseball circles but only in recent years became close. And we're talking super-close. They are baseball lifers, Phillies legends and the best of friends.

"Their friendship is nice to see," Missy said. "They really truly care about each other."

Missy added that during Charlie's recent illness, "Larry was the best friend you could have." The Bowas visited Charlie regularly at the hospital along with dozens of others from the Phillies' corner of the world. Jim Thome and Aaron Rowand both flew into town to visit their beloved former skipper. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard phoned. Ed Wade visited more than once. Many more visited or called, too many to name, and the Manuels appreciate every one of them.

Wade was the guy who hired Manuel as Phillies manager in 2005. Pat Gillick is the guy who retained Manuel when he succeeded Wade as GM in 2006. Though they won a World Series together in 2008, Gillick and Manuel did not often take the time to smell the roses together. They were always focused on building and running a winning baseball roster. Manuel's recent illness has brought them closer together on a personal level.

"Pat keeps in touch all the time," Charlie said. "The other day he told me, 'I don't go out of my house because I don't want to get this virus, and I don't want you to get it.' He calls two or three times a week.

"Being off the field these years, I think my knowledge of who Pat Gillick is has grown. I know more about him. He was very instrumental in my success. In the heat of the battle, you don't get to know who the guy is, sometimes you have different ideas, you're on the same team but you're not always close. Pat and I have gotten real close and I really appreciate him."

Manuel also appreciates what Phillies ownership has done for him over the years and during his recent health scare.

He recalled the phone call he and Missy received from Middleton offering help back in December.

"It was a warm feeling," Manuel said. "When Missy and I talk about it, the fact that John Middleton arranged for that — I spoke to him and I tried to express myself. I thanked him. Hopefully it got across. I've gotten to know him the last two summers. I've always respected him and the Buck family. I big-time appreciate everything he did. It makes me feel good that someone would do something like that for me."

Manuel's gratitude extends beyond his immediate Phillies family.

"I want our fans to know how much I appreciate them and love them," he said. "That makes my day go."

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Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

The valuation of the Phillies franchise is up to $2 billion, according to Forbes. It’s an 8 percent increase from last year.

The only teams in the majors to experience a higher percentage year-over-year increase than the Phillies are the Yankees, the World Champion Nationals and the Orioles. Seven teams saw no gain or lost value: the Marlins, Pirates, Royals, Athletics, Indians, Tigers and Diamondbacks.

The Yankees are valued at $5 billion, leading the league for the 22nd straight year.

At $2 billion, the Phils’ valuation is eighth-highest in the majors. They are behind, respectively, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Mets and Cardinals.

The only team with a current valuation below $1 billion is the Marlins at $980 million. Miami was the only team to lose money in 2019, according to Forbes.

MLB’s total revenue in 2019 was $10.5 billion. More than 30 percent of that was from gate receipts, which baseball would not have in 2020 if games are played in empty stadiums. That was the largest chunk, followed by national TV deals, local TV deals and sponsorships.

The Phillies’ 13-year investment in Bryce Harper and the resulting increase in attendance and merchandise sales played an obvious role in the increase but the terms of rights deals are one of the biggest drivers of organizational values.

League-wide, profits have never been higher, which puts MLB in a position to at least withstand the pain of a shortened 2020 season. Forbes estimates that coronavirus concerns will cost U.S. pro sports leagues $5 billion.

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What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

Scott Kingery hit his first major-league home run two years ago today, a solo shot to left-center at Citizens Bank Park against Reds left-hander Cody Reed.

Kingery's first two weeks in the majors went well but his rookie season was a slog after that. He expanded the strike zone a ton, struck out more than you'd like and barely got on base when the hits weren't falling.

Kingery took a big step forward last season at age 25. He missed a month between April 19 and May 19 with a hamstring injury but hit .347 from opening day through June 1. 

In the month of June, he was an extra-base hit machine with nine doubles, a triple and seven home runs in 114 plate appearances.

August was another productive month for Kingery. He hit .287 with 13 extra-base hits and an .825 OPS. 

All told, it was a solid second season from Kingery. His .788 OPS was exactly the league average, and his extra-base hit total increased from 33 to 57 in just 16 additional plate appearances. When you factor in the strong defense he has played at six different positions, the value is easy to see.

Kingery has started games at second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots. No major-leaguer since 1958 has amassed as many plate appearances in his first two seasons (984) while playing all those positions. That's not just a random fact — it illustrates the rarity of a player being not just a super-utility player but a super-utility starter, and how doubly rare it is for a player to begin his career in that role. 

In 2020, whenever the season begins, Kingery will likely be at second base for the majority of the season. Things can change quickly, though. If Jean Segura suffers an injury, Kingery could shift to third base. If Didi Gregorius gets hurt, Kingery or Segura would slide over to short. If there are injuries in center field, Kingery would likely be the next man up after Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley.

Kingery's versatility is a good thing, not a bad thing, though it probably cost him some offensive effectiveness over his first two seasons. Kingery remarked this offseason that by preparing for so many different positions, there have been many nights in his first two big-league seasons that he felt spent by game time.

His biggest issue at the plate is his constant expansion of the strike zone. Kingery knows it. It's a goal of his to be better at laying off of pitches he has no chance of making good contact with.

Through two seasons, Kingery's strikeout-to-walk ratio is ugly. He's whiffed 273 times and taken 58 walks. No Phillie has struck out that many times in his first two seasons since Pat Burrell in 2001 — but Burrell also walked 75 more times than Kingery has.

Last season, 24% of the pitches Kingery saw were low and away off the plate. He swung at those low-and-away pitches nearly 30% of the time and hit just .127. Obviously, that is a zone a hitter would rather leave alone. 

Kingery's selectivity must improve for him to reach a higher offensive level. There are 118 players with as many plate appearances as him the last two seasons and Kingery ranks 108th in walks.

The Phillies are not relying on Kingery to be their offensive centerpiece or even their sixth-best hitter. However, they'd be so much stronger as a lineup if Kingery could maneuver his way closer to the top of the order and produce. If Kingery could provide consistency in the 2-hole, it would allow someone like J.T. Realmuto or Didi Gregorius to move into more of a run-producing role. And even if Kingery does stay in the 7-spot in the lineup for most of the season, he has a chance to lengthen the Phillies' lineup and turn it into one of the NL's best if he can build on his sophomore season.

Kingery had a .315 on-base percentage last season. The league average was .323. Had he reached base just 10 more times in his 500 plate appearances, he'd have been at .334, which is the same as Realmuto's OBP the last three seasons.

It's a realistic target for Kingery, who does not need to become the next Chase Utley to be valuable or to live up to the $24 million contract he signed before ever playing a major-league game.

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