THE PHILLIES didn't quit on Charlie Manuel, after all.
Jimmy Rollins didn't quit on Charlie Manuel, after all.
Well . . . Never mind that.
Ants, rubber trees, high hopes and all that.
As Mark McGwire once told Congress, I'm not here to talk about the past.
Except for this: The Phillies rode a seven-game winning streak into Houston on Thursday, had won 15 of their last 19, had flipped an injury-plagued, underachievement-filled season upside down so quickly that we haven't even had time to adjust. After their sixth win in a row, for example, I went on StubHub and purchased a pair in the 123 section behind home plate for $30 each for a midweek game against Washington in the next homestand.
That's two bucks more than what my kid's Sunday-package bleacher seats cost retail.
They're trickling back, not streaming, but the stands are filling up again.
And Charlie's getting no credit for it whatsoever.
It was 8 days ago that Angelo Cataldi interviewed MLB.com's Peter Gammons about Ryne Sandberg's future with the club. When Gammons told him he would likely get a manager's job somewhere else if the Phillies didn't make him theirs for 2013, Ang nearly blew out his voice. "I want him here!" WIP's morning host bellowed. "Do you understand? I WANT RYNE SANDBERG HERE! Did you hear that testimonial, Al? Did you hear that?!?"
He apparently was not alone. A poll that ran on the CBS website aside a story about the radio interview asked: "Should the Phillies replace Manuel with Sandberg?"
Of the votes cast, 79.14 percent checked "Yes."
This was 8 days ago.
The Phillies are playing meaningful games in September. As long as Manuel has been manager, they have always played meaningful games in September, and quite a few in October. Not too long ago, that alone would have gotten you a statue as big as the one planned for Joe Frazier, especially when a championship was involved. But these are not those times. Over the last decade, the Phillies have morphed from a team from which little was expected into one from which everything is expected.
Manuel managed through that change. And he is continually cursed by it as well.
I have nothing against Ryne Sandberg. He does deserve a chance to manage a big-league club and he might very well be the next John McGraw or Connie Mack. I just don't understand the conviction of so many that it's a given, and frankly Gammons should know better than to wag his Hall of Fame career as some kind of business card.
More Hall of Fame players have failed as managers than have succeeded. You could look it up, Casey Stengel, a great manager and journeyman player, used to say. The list of great managers is dominated by men like Manuel, fringe players who learned only too well the game's meanest and truest tenet: It is, indeed, a game of failure. And while Sandberg deserves great credit for the reclamation of Domonic Brown and for the performances of the minor league arms that have so suddenly shored up the iffy Phillies bullpen, he is in the Phillies' dugout these days because his IronPigs concluded their season short of a championship.
Do I think that's a measurement of his acumen? Of course not. But I also have no idea how he manages the late innings of games, whether it is spectacularly different than how his peers manage, or even Charlie. I have no idea how he would handle Rollins' habitual bouts of insubordination. I don't know how Sandberg would have handled public criticism, media criticism, criticism from within his own clubhouse about the daily decisions he made. I have seen calm, even-tempered men melt under such scrutiny; Hal McRae comes to mind. And I have seen a lot of can't-miss minor league managers miss badly in the majors.
Again, this is no rap on Sandberg's ability. I honestly believe that had the Phillies continued their downward spiral and finished as lifelessly as the Mets and Red Sox, a move to promote Sandberg in 2013 might have been warranted, even beneficial.
But the Phillies have not done that, nor have they ever played poorly for Manuel down the stretch, especially when they had to. They erased a big deficit in 2007, did the same in 2008. And this current march - with players not even on the roster 6 weeks ago, with only one player with enough at-bats to be eligible for a batting title - is just mind-boggling.
People in the national media can talk all they want about the Phillies finally being healthy again, about Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and the resurgence of Rollins. You know better. These guys may finish it off, may provide the grand finale of fireworks, but the bridge to this improbable ending was built by players with names like Kevin Frandsen, Eric Kratz, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry and, lest we forget, Kyle Kendrick.
Could it have happened with a manager they wouldn't play hard for? Could it have happened without a manager willing to try just about everybody not named Wilson Valdez in the eighth-inning spot this season, to the delight of second-guessers everywhere?
Maybe. Or maybe we should all take a deep breath now, and at least consider that we got this one wrong.