Ask a question, get an answer - that's the way it works with Charlie Manuel. The man is direct.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball issued a warning to the Phillies after bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer - incidentally, if Butter Bean and Matt Stairs had a man child, Billmeyer would be the result - was accused by the Rockies of attempting to steal their signs. During Monday night's game, FSN Rocky Mountain television cameras showed Billmeyer using binoculars to reportedly look in on Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo.

The Philadelphia ball writers who traveled to Denver asked Manuel about the allegations. Manuel had a fine answer, which he delivered in his usual homespun West Virginia drawl.

"Because we beat them," Manuel said. "That's why. What the hell? Keep crying."

It's the "what the hell" part that makes that quote great. Charlie uses the saying so much he ought to trademark it, the way Michael Buffer did with "Let's get ready to rumble" - which is fitting, since Manuel was fightin' mad over the whole situation and swore the Phils weren't trying to steal signs. At least not this time.

During the World Series last year, Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach (and Philadelphia expat) Larry Bowa went on the radio and said there was talk around the league about the Phils' attempting to steal signs. That led to one of Manuel's funniest news conferences ever, which is saying quite a bit:

"I can tell you this, if I can steal signs I will," Manuel said, playing the roles of both the comedic setup man and closer. "We don't have their signs . . . but we are trying."

Even Conan O'Brien doesn't do deadpan shtick that well.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the Phils do attempt to steal signs. Let's even assume they're good at it. As Manuel would say: What the hell? What's the big deal?

Binoculars or no, stealing signs has been part of the game within the game since the game became a game. (Got that?) Isn't at least some of the onus on opposing managers to change things up, disguise what they're doing, and protect their clubs? If Colorado manager Jim Tracy pulls a Bull Durham and lollygags down a Denver street with a wad of hundred dollar bills sticking out of his back pocket, who's more to blame if someone comes along and helps himself to the bounty - Tracy for failing to secure his wad or the guy who saw an opportunity and took it?

Of course, the Phils' alleged sign-stealing infraction wasn't nearly as egregious or criminal as all that. If it had been, the good people at Major League Baseball - led by always with-it commissioner Bud Selig - would have come down much harder on Manuel's crew.

"We have looked at the video and talked to the Phillies about the actions of their bullpen coach," an MLB official told "We found the evidence inconclusive on what was being done."

That's why the Phils got off with a warning - because "the evidence was inconclusive." As far as punishments go, that's the baseball equivalent of telling Charlie to stand in the corner for a quick 20-second time-out before heading back outside to play with his friends. They didn't even send him to bed without his Nutrisystem dinner.

The real issue here, and the only unpardonable sin, if there is one, was Billmeyer's utter lack of secrecy. Shy of starting a fire and sending smoke signals to the Phils' hitters, he couldn't have drawn more attention to himself. Has he never seen First Blood? A little camouflage goes a long way. When the Phils return home, Billmeyer should get himself a sniper suit made out of dark green ivy and hide along the center field wall. Opposing teams would never see him. Problem solved.

When you stop and reflect for a moment, this is all a little embarrassing - not for the Phils but for the opposing players and managers who overreact to this sort of espionage. The Mets recently joined that group and complained that the Fightin's may have stolen signs when they rocked Johan Santana at Citizens Bank Park during the last home stand.

Did the whiners not take an eighth-grade social studies class? Are they completely unfamiliar with the history of this fine nation? Stealing information is in our red-white-and-blue blood. If the Phils rip off signals, they honor the Founding Fathers in the process.

During the American Revolution, spies stationed in British-occupied New York City regularly intercepted Redcoat communications and passed them on to rebel leaders. That intelligence helped win the war and liberate our lands from the crown's meddlesome micromanagement.

Imagine what would have happened if the colonial army hadn't employed those tactics as well as then-frowned-upon guerrilla warfare. For starters, we'd all be speaking English.