He was gone five months.
The Phillies welcomed back their former manager Charlie Manuel on Wednesday, to serve as a senior adviser for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. It's a fuzzy story that doesn't make the Phillies look as heartless as they did in August, when they sent Manuel away, sadly clutching a Wawa bag. But what does it actually do?
The Phillies hang onto their own, historically. The team's last two managers and last two GMs are still employed by the team.
This winter alone, the Phillies have welcomed back former manager Larry Bowa as a bench coach and former outfielder Marlon Byrd as an outfielder. In the front office somewhere is Ed Wade, the GM who was replaced by Pat Gillick, who is currently serving in the same role as Charlie Manuel.
Reasons can be given for any of these, of course. Ryne Sandberg's kinship with Bowa was cited as the motivation for keeping him nearby. Amaro recently explained how he had to sign Byrd to be a "role-player" because of chaos on the free agent market. Manuel knows the territory, and the team owes him, and any opportunity to keep Gillick around in any capacity should be capitalized. Wade's "special consultant" status allows him time to work on his mystery-writing.
Loyalty is nice to see. Nobody wants to be a fan of a team whose front office festers with in-fighting and whose clubhouse stinks with tension. The Phillies take care of their own, and from a human standpoint, hey; that's really nice. From a baseball standpoint, however, how does this honorable approach serve them, when their greatest recent success has come from change?
After Bowa's Phillies couldn't get traction in 2004, the Phillies dumped their manager and former shortstop in favor of Manuel, a guy with no connection to their franchise. His laid-back clubhouse helped young stars flourish.
In 2006, Wade was dumped in favor of fixer Gillick, who continued his tradition of winning the World Series everywhere he goes. Subsequently, mainstays on the roster were shipped out in favor of giving young and/or new players a chance. With this philosophy of change in the organization, the team was able to win a World Series and put themselves in a position to do so again and again for years following.
It'd be insulting to presume Charlie has been given an ornamental position, and he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who wants to kick back, throw in the occasional word at a meeting, and demand to know where his latte is from a terrified intern. Charlie wants to work, and he probably wants to be near the action. But his influence on Ruben's moves may not be very strong, and even if it isn't, he's using the old school decision-making that seemed outdated when he was the manager.
If Gillick, the man who rearranged the Phillies into a team that could win the World Series, is still up there, his influence isn't felt nearly enough during some of Amaro's decisions over the years. Wade is in the same capacity, having perhaps made more questionable decisions later on when he was GM, but he also drafted Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, and hired Manuel.
Byrd, it could be argued, is simply an inexpensive place-filler, purchased out of necessity and in accordance with the Phillies' 2013-14 offseason spending strategy. But he is only the most recent re-up the team has made on a former Phillie - in 2012, when they wanted a heavy bat off the bench they signed Thome; in 2010 when they wanted to stop fooling around at third base they brought back Placido Polanco. The team is rumored to be talking about a comeback for former setup man and closer Ryan Madson as well, despite him not pitching since 2011 (the year they brought back Cliff Lee, though that one gets an obvious pass).
Bowa may be the most influential return. As the bench coach, he's a heartbeat away from managing the team again, and his approach when dealing with young players is part of what cost him his job in 2006. He didn't appeal to Jimmy Rollins, not that there are any cocksure young Jimmy Rollinses waiting in the wings, but there are some youthful talents waiting to break out. Bowa, a notoriously old school, vocal coach, brings a certain personality into the mix; and it isn't the sort that necessarily resonates with youth. Manuel's clubhouse was far more laid back, certainly, but he was a gut-first manager, and the recycling of old players and coaches feeds into the theory that the Phillies lack the will to move on.
Now, that willingness to change from 2004-06 has turned back into frantic recycling. The Phillies were one of the last to hire an analytic voice in their front office, and it remains questionable as to how much free range that guy even gets. The Phillies would rather put some old friends in there, regardless of how well they will fit. Hiring Larry Bowa doesn't make it 2006 again, and bringing back Charlie Manuel doesn't make it 2008.
The Phillies need to adopt an openness to change without the fear of upsetting the old school or scorning old friends. Either they're bringing in familiar faces in low capacity roles, or they're repeatedly defining insanity.
Loyalty is nice. But progress is mandatory.