CHARLIE MANUEL smiled as if I had clumsily tried to squish a wad of gum on the top of his hat. "I like Andy Reid," he said when asked if he could empathize with the decision made this week by his counterpart across the street.
OK, OK, no piling on, I said. But the jobs share their similarities just the same. Who starts? Who doesn't?
When to quit on a guy. When not to.
Charlie has a story about any topic you could conjure up. So, I asked, was he ever in a situation similar to the one the Eagles coach was this week, balancing here and now with then or later, balancing short-term gain with long-term damage.
"David Bell," he said.
"Not Brad Lidge?" he was asked.
"David Bell," he repeated.
When Charlie Manuel took over as Phillies manager in 2005, David Bell was his everyday third baseman. To hear Charlie tell it now, that wasn't his call then. Bell had come to the Phillies as a big free-agent signing in 2003, after a clutch season with the San Francisco Giants in which he won the team's Willie Mac award, a leadership and spirit award.
Bell was a bellwether of positive change for the Phillies, at least he was supposed to be. A seconddivision club for most of the previous decade, the Phillies were searching for that Terry Pendleton-type leader that Scott Rolen and Pat Burrell were incapable or unwilling to be. Later they would try Aaron Rowand, but Bell was supposed to be one of those guys as the 2003 season began.
Rolen was already gone, traded to St. Louis in July of 2002 for several players, most notably a steady, smart infielder named Placido Polanco. Polanco was installed at third when he came here, but Bell's arrival pushed him over to second base.
Manuel said yesterday that Bell was assured by someone upon signing his 4-year deal that he would be the team's regular third baseman. The deal preceded Manuel's appointment by a couple seasons, and back then Manuel did not have the clout he has now. Chase Utley was the homegrown star in the making who had to play second. Much to the chagrin of fans at the time, Polanco could not replace Bell at third.
So Polanco was traded to Detroit in June of 2005 for reliever Ugueth Urbina, who, in fairness, pitched well and helped the Phillies contend for the division title in Manuel's first season. In fairness, Polanco could have been a free agent at year's end. Still, when you ask Manuel about the cost of not doing what he would like to have done, he said, "I lost a very good player."
Which, in the words of a manager who almost always ends up smarter than he sounds at the time, seems to be an endorsement of what the man across the street did this week. Shake off the money already committed to the lesser player. Play the guy that gives you the best chance to win.
Except that there's this other side to Charlie, the side that has sent his well-paid closer out over the last two seasons even when his fastball seemed flat and his slider didn't bite. The rationale then, as it was for much of Brad Lidge's ineffective 2009, was that the team had paid him all this money to close games and therefore it must live and die with him.
"Brad came to me during one of those times and he said, 'Charlie, don't you quit on me,' " said Manuel. "And I didn't."
Not officially at least, not in the spectacular manner that Andy Reid did this week on Kevin Kolb. Manuel occasionally closed with other guys late last season and early on in this one, brought Lidge in for two batters in the ninth rather than three, that sort of thing.
None of it, though, officially reduced his title or status.
"Another manager might not have done that," said Lidge. "A lot of managers. I'm eternally grateful for that."
And so there was Lidge last night, the rain-drenched crowd frantically on its feet in the ninth as he nailed down a late-September 1-0 game that all but assured this team of its fourth straight October. Three nights, three tight saves that helped balloon a three-game lead to a six-game lead. His slider is vintage 2008. His fastball, while not as fast, has better movement, or so he believes.
And he controls it better.
Or so he believes.
"If you force yourself to stay confident, eventually it will pay off," he said, but the manager can and often does sabotage that notion. When Manuel removed Lidge after a messy non-save outing against Florida recently, he put his arm around him and promised he would be back out there the next time big outs were needed.
I'm not quitting on you, he said.
"I think he sees something in me," said Lidge, "that makes him feel that way."
Call it gut. Or call it faith, belief, even hope maybe.
So, did Andy make the right call this week? Charlie won't commit. But Lidge?
"I think you should go with the hot hand," the closer said, smiling. "That's probably the safest thing for me to say."
Send e-mail to
For recent columns, go to