Charlie Manuel, in pinstriped pants and a red pullover, left the Phillies dugout on Wednesday afternoon dressed like it was 2008.
The uniform was just as red as it was when the 75-year-old was managing his way a decade ago to the most wins in franchise history. And where he was headed Wednesday — a perch behind the batting cage at Citizens Bank Park — was the same place he lingered when he was running the show in South Philadelphia.
But his role is different now as he returned to the field staff for the first time since he managed his last game — six years to the day — in 2013. Manuel, the team announced a day earlier, is their new hitting coach. The role is expected to last just until the end of the season. Nothing is planned for 2020 and Manuel has no aspirations beyond being a hitting coach.
“I’m not interested in managing. I’ll make that clear to you, right now. I’m not interested in managing at all,” Manuel said before the game against the Cubs. “Something would have to go really big for me to change my mind. I’m 75 years old. I still think I can talk hitting and I think I can get somebody to put the ball on the tee and things like that. Managing is not in my vocabulary or forte at all.”
The Phillies reached out to Manuel on Monday morning after they decided to part ways with hitting coach John Mallee. Manuel said he did not know why Matt Klentak was calling him and told the general manager that he would have to think about returning to the dugout. He received a few messages from Phillies owner John Middleton, who urged Manuel to accept the job and said Manuel could call him if he had any questions.
Manuel said he “fiddled around outside,” cleaned the garage at his home in Winter Haven, Fla., “did bits of things” and thought about being a hitting coach for the final weeks of the season. He called Klentak at 9 p.m. Monday and told him he would accept.
“Not only do I feel an obligation to John Middleton but to also the Phillies,” said Manuel, who had been a special adviser to the front office. “I’ve been getting paid the last five or six years. 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.”
The Phillies hand Manuel the keys to an offense that entered Wednesday ranked 24th in batting average, 23rd in homers, 20th in runs scored, and 23rd in slugging percentage. Manuel is a hitting guru, but the Phillies will need more than just his wisdom to turn around their offense.
The Phillies, under Mallee, were often criticized for being too patient and they are eighth in baseball in pitches per plate appearance. Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper — expected to be among the league leaders in homers — instead lead the National League in walks. If anything, Manuel will try to find a way to unlock the power of a lineup built to hit for extra bases.
“First you get a good ball to hit, and if you don’t get a good ball to hit or get a strike, then the more likely you’re going to walk. I’ve never ever gone out and tried to teach walking,” Manuel said.
“Hitting is offense. There’s a way you walk and there’s a way to get up in the count and box and zone a ball out front where you have a chance of hitting a home run. Kind of what hitting a home run is.”
Manuel stood Wednesday afternoon for more than an hour behind the batting cage as his new pupils filtered through to take swings. He watched with assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, chatted with Rhys Hoskins, instructed Jean Segura to drive the ball with his legs, went over some finer points with Adam Haseley, and laughed with Cesar Hernandez, who is the only active player who had Manuel as a manager.
Manuel had been around the team during spring training and at times during the season. But this was his first day in six years where his voice would truly carry weight. Manuel, six years after being fired and walking out of the ballpark with a Wawa bag, was back in uniform. What was old was again new.
“It gets back to know thyself. I think I know every swing in baseball. Really. I think that. I believe that,” Manuel said. “Definitely, as a hitting coach or as a baseball guy, I think I’m proven and I hope you don’t take that as bragging or anything because I’m not.