Charlie Manuel: 'I feel an obligation to John Middleton' and the Phillies

Charlie Manuel: 'I feel an obligation to John Middleton' and the Phillies

The Phillies asked Charlie Manuel to come back into active duty.

There was no way he could say no.

“Not only do I feel an obligation to (owner) John Middleton but to also the Phillies,” Manuel said before batting practice on his first day as the team’s hitting coach Wednesday.

In a desperate attempt to kick-start the offense over the final 43 games — and maybe make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 — the Phillies fired John Mallee on Tuesday and installed Manuel in the role in which he gained baseball-wide prominence as Cleveland’s hitting coach in the late 1990s before coming to Philadelphia and winning a World Series as manager.

Manuel was back in uniform Wednesday night, six years to the day after he managed his last game with the Phillies, and leading a group of hitters trying to beat Cole Hamels, the guy who was World Series MVP on the Phillies’ 2008 world championship team.

Middleton, still trying to get that bleeping trophy back more than a decade later, started feeling out Manuel about possibly helping out the offense during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown last month. Both were there to honor Roy Halladay. In fact, Manuel flew to Cooperstown on Air Middleton.

Manuel said Middleton subsequently left him a couple of voicemails before general manager Matt Klentak phoned on Monday morning about 10 a.m.

“I had no idea why he was calling, really,” Manuel said. “When he asked me if I would take the hitting job for the rest of the season, I told him I had to think about it. He told me to take my time and give him a call back.”

Manuel “fiddled around outside, cleaned my garage, did bits of things, and thought about it.” He called Klentak back at 9 p.m. Monday night and said he’d take the job. He’d worked as a front office adviser since the start of the 2016 season.

“I've been getting paid the last five or six years,” he said. “I've been getting to go to the ballpark whenever I want to. It's a pretty big deal to me getting meal money. I haven't missed any meals. I get to stay in a free hotel. I definitely wanted to accept. After I thought about it, I felt like I owed the Phillies that much. After I thought about it, I decided to take this job until the end of the season.”

At 75, Manuel has no aspirations to manage again. He does not want to be hitting coach next year.

This is a 43-game sprint to try to salvage an offense and a season.

“I’m excited,” Manuel said. “It’s a challenge. I’ve never been scared of nothing like that, especially when it comes to hitting. We’re inconsistent. We can be better. We need to be better. That’s one thing that helped my decision.”

Manuel is familiar with all of the Phillies hitters. He’s worked with some in the minors and spring training. He watches most every game on TV.

He mentioned the need for hitters to make more contact. He wants to see more base runners. He will only stress walks in the context that if the pitcher doesn’t come in the strike zone, take the walk. But if you get a pitch to hammer, hammer it, regardless of the count.

He will not jump on hitters and force his views. He has always stressed having a clear mind and a tension-free approach at the plate. In recent weeks, Phillies hitters have pressed and put pressure on themselves. Manuel will try to ease that pressure and build their confidence. He's very good at that.

“You work off of a guy’s talent,” he said. “You get to know that guy from a mental aspect and physical talent and things like that. I teach off the player. I don’t teach off Charlie Manuel’s way.”

If there’s one thing Manuel is sure to stress, it’s this:

“We have to get back and enjoy playing the game,” he said. “Hitting in situations, situational hitting, do some things correct, move runners, just start playing the game and having a lot of fun.

"I think the environment can be different as far as just talking to guys and letting them talk to me. I think we can get better. We need to get better. We have a talented team.”

Some have wondered if it will be awkward for Manuel, so popular as Phillies skipper, to work with Gabe Kapler, who has yet to be embraced by fans. Manuel downplayed that, saying, “I’m 75, nothing bothers me,” and said he was eager to work with Kapler. 

Kapler was aligned with many of the teachings of Mallee — getting the ball in the air, using analytics to build game plans and approaches to certain pitchers. Manuel is more of a get-your-work-in, see-the-pitch-and-react guy. Kapler spent an hour with Manuel on Wednesday afternoon. He might need big success from Manuel’s hitters to save his job.

“There’s a lot of care and authenticity in Charlie," Kapler said. "Before I see anything else, I see the success, the track record, the success managing in this city and I look up to Charlie.

“A lot of his natural philosophies on hitting are the philosophies we have in place with the Phillies right now and there’s a lot of synergy there. Simple things, like one of the things we discussed was hitters' looking for a pitch to drive and if that pitch isn’t there, taking it until you get a pitch to drive. We talked a lot about situational hitting and how important it is to put the ball in play and some of the ways that we can do that. One of the ways is also getting the pitcher on the plate, so that we’re chasing less frequently and staying committed to that approach, looking for a pitch to drive and when it’s there, not missing it.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies' Phil Gosselin on surreal reality of baseball shutdown

Phillies' Phil Gosselin on surreal reality of baseball shutdown

Until the last few days, Phil Gosselin wasn't having much trouble staying ready for the return of baseball, whenever that happens. He's been living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he's hooked up with a couple of other ballplayers, Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves and Jacob Stallings of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They'd been able to sneak into batting cages at some of the area schools until they started getting kicked out the other day. They found a new one tucked off down the right-field line at an out-of-the-way field on Tuesday and were able to take some hacks.

"We'll see how long it lasts," Gosselin said with a laugh.

A month ago, Gosselin was playing third base for the Phillies during a Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Florida. Major League Baseball was about to suspend spring training as concern over the coronavirus began to grow. Gosselin got advance notice of the news as he tossed balls across the diamond in the middle of the fifth inning.

"The third base umpire told me, 'This is it, we're done after this,'" Gosselin said. "We still had a few innings to go so I knew I had to lock in and concentrate. But it was tough to do knowing it was the last game of spring training."

Gosselin recalled the surreal feel of the day, finishing the game, quickly showering then boarding the bus with teammates for the two-hour trip back to Clearwater.

"It was so weird," he said. "Some of the guys had already left and gone back on their own. The rest of us got on and talked for a while. Then it was silent the rest of the ride. It was like, 'Is this really happening? Is it as bad as they say?'

"At that point we knew it was a thing, but we didn't know it would turn into this."

• • •

Gosselin, 31, has kept up with the crisis through news reports and conversations with his mom and dad and sister and brother back in the West Chester area. Everyone is safe, thankfully.

He's also gained quite a bit of perspective through his girlfriend, Rachel Jennings, an emergency room doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Gosselin is a Malvern Prep grad. Jennings is from Macungie, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Emmaus High School. They attended the University of Virginia together. Jennings graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University last May and is a first-year resident at Vanderbilt Hospital.

"She's on the front line," Gosselin said. "It hasn't been too bad here, thank goodness, but it's still stressful. They take all the precautions, but it's still scary because you never know. You can take all the precautions available and still get it.

"She enjoys the work and loves helping people but it's definitely a little scarier in times like these."

Last week, the Tennessee state government began urging people to stay home. Gosselin said he's noticed more and more people wearing masks out in public. He is also taking precautions, doing his running outside far away from others. He and his baseball workout partners do their drills at a safe distance.

The baseball shutdown has left all players in a state of limbo, but some are in even more limbo than others. Bryce Harper, J.T Realmuto and Aaron Nola know where they'll be when baseball opens its doors again. They are established members of the Phillies' 25-man roster. Gosselin has spent his career battling for reserve roles on big-league teams. He played in 44 games with the Phillies, his sixth big-league club, last season and was in camp as a non-roster player on a minor-league deal when that umpire told him, "This is it," a month ago.

When baseball gets going again, Gosselin could ultimately end up with the Phillies' big club or the Triple A team in Lehigh Valley. His fate will be determined during the resumption of spring training. Players are definitely going to need a second spring training to ramp up and Gosselin is intent on being ready for that.

"I've had this discussion with some guys around league," Gosselin said. "You don't want to wear yourself out and do too much because you could be playing until November or December. But guys like me, we have to be ready the first day we go back, we have to be sharp and healthy and on the field or we have no shot to make it. We're really in the middle."

Veteran non-roster players are also caught in the middle financially as they don't benefit from the $170 million pot that MLB is divvying up among rostered players through May. For instance, Neil Walker, who is also with the Phillies as a non-roster player, does not benefit from that fund even though he's played 10 seasons in the majors. The Players Association last week recognized this issue and stepped in with stipends for players in these situations. A player with Walker's level of service time received $50,000. Gosselin, with three years of big-league time, received $25,000. In addition, all big-league teams are paying their minor leaguers $400 a week through May. Gosselin, Walker and other non-roster players qualify for that.

"The union is definitely taking care of us," Gosselin said. "It's really nice what they're doing. They wanted to help the whole time but legally there's only so much they can do because technically we're not part of the union right now because we're not on the 40-man roster. It's tough for a guy like Neil or Logan Forsythe (also with the Phillies.) They paid dues for a long time. It shows how strong the union is and how much they care about guys that they're willing to help us out. We're lucky because a lot of people don't have jobs. It definitely could be worse."

• • •

While Major League Baseball and empty stadiums have become the visible reality of a sport on hold, the shutdown runs much deeper. The health crisis has claimed high school and college seasons. It wasn't long ago that Gosselin was starring at Malvern Prep and Virginia. He empathizes with the kids who have lost something so precious — in whatever sport they play.

"I've played a few years in the big leagues but still some of my most vivid memories of baseball are the games I played in high school and college with my buddies," he said. "I can't imagine what it would be like missing my senior year at Malvern or my last year at Virginia. For some of these guys, it's the highest level they'll play at and the most fun they'll ever have in the game. It's really tough. I'm still close with Freddy Hilliard, the coach at Malvern, and he feels devastated for his kids."

Gosselin is two courses shy of an economics degree at Virginia. He wants to finish his degree and has given some thought to getting that going if the pause in baseball continues much longer. He one day would like to work in a baseball front office. But for now, he wants to keep playing. That's why he's running sprints on a hill near his apartment in Nashville, doing conditioning drills fetched off of YouTube and sneaking into batting cages to keep his eye.

It's all stirred a new appreciation for the game he loves and how good big leaguers have it, from the facilities to the coaching to everything else.

"My dad (Dave) must have thrown me 10,000 pitches in the batting cage at West Chester East so this brings back a lot of memories," Gosselin said. "Good memories."

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube

More on the Phillies

Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

This wasn't how Ben Lively envisioned his first full year in South Korea.

The former Phillie is now living in Daegu, where the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea began and quickly spread. After 14 days by himself looking at the same four walls, Lively is finally able to practice again today. 

"I'm just ready to get out of my apartment. It's been 14 days straight," Lively told NBC10's John Clark. "So far it's been ... now I know what to do when I'm bored by myself in an apartment for two weeks.

"We had spring training in Okinawa, Japan, then we actually got sent back to America for like a week and a half. We came back and the next day they followed the Korean law saying that all foreign travelers have to be quarantined 14 days just to go outside. 

"If you got caught outside, there was a chance you could be deported. Wouldn't be good."

Tuesday was Lively's last day under quarantine. He was given a COVID-19 test the second day he was back in South Korea (March 26) and was re-tested this week. He says all of his teammates foreign to Korea tested negative.

Lively's Korean teammates have not been tested, per his knowledge. "I think the only time they test a person that has been here is when they have symptoms," he said.

South Korea has seemingly done a better job of containing coronavirus than any country in the world. As of April 8, the country has seen 10,384 reported cases and 200 total deaths. The number of new cases per day has ranged between 47 and 152 since March 12, according to Worldometer.

Opening day for the Korea Baseball Organization was supposed to be March 28, two days after MLB's opening day. Instead, the KBO is just opening practices back up to its foreign players and hopes to open its season by early May.

"The facilities we have at our field, there's going to be no pedestrians or fans, and they clean it every day," Lively said. "You don't necessarily have to wear a mask there, it's just going to be our team, small group of people. When you're going around though you've definitely got to wear a mask."

On Tuesday, an ESPN report outlined an ambitious potential plan by MLB to play regular-season games in empty stadiums in Arizona by late-May or early-June. The commissioner's office released a statement later in the day saying that numerous options are under consideration.

In South Korea, teams still plan to travel as of now.

"We don't have anything like that here. We're gonna travel, go city to city," Lively said. "It's definitely slowing down here, there's barely any new cases here now. They have it on pretty good lockdown over here. We still have no idea what the plan is after the games, whether we go back to the hotel or keep traveling back and forth."

Lively is eager to compete and carve out his role. He spent three seasons in the majors, pitching 112⅓ of his 120 innings with the Phillies. He made 15 starts for the 2017 Phils and went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.

The Phillies acquired him on New Year's Eve 2015 from the Reds for Marlon Byrd. In Lively's first year in the Phillies' system, he went 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA, splitting time between Double A and Triple A. He was let go by the Phillies late in the 2018 season and went to the Royals and Diamondbacks before his release in Arizona last August.

In Korea, Lively is teammates with former Phillie David Buchanan, who pitched here in 2014 and 2015. Buchanan lives a building over from Lively.

"Buchanan had a plan for his wife and kid to come over here the first week we started," Lively said. "I can see how tough it is on him. ... I tell everyone it still feels like a movie, can't really grasp what's going on still."

The rest of the baseball world is watching Korea to see how the KBO fares in its attempt to bring baseball back by May.

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube


More on the Phillies