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10 years ago
Uncle Charlie is the Phillies’ Best-Kept Secret Weapon

Written by Don Scott

Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg were the featured speakers at Tuesday evening’s Phillies 2011 Winter Banquet in Reading, as television play-by-play voice of the Phillies Tom McCarthy served as the master of ceremonies.

Manuel, the first manager in franchise history to lead the Phillies to consecutive World Series appearances, enters the 2011 season ranked fourth on the framchise’s all-time managerial wins list with 544.

“Our bullpen is encouraging to me based on what it did the second half of last season, the way (Brad) Lidge and (Ryan) Madson finished,” the 67-year old manager said. “(Jose) Contreras was pretty good all year so from the seventh inning on I think we have things pretty well covered. J.C. Romero can help us if he finds the form he had couple years ago.

“In the middle of a game that could be one of our concerns but I feel we have enough talent to take care of that,” Manuel continued. “We have (Antonio) Bastardo and some other new faces but overall we have a chance to be great, especially with the starters we have who will go deep into games and help keep the bullpen rested.”

When reminded that at last year’s function he replied to a question about Cliff Lee returning to the Phillies with, ‘you never know it might just happen,’ he explained what he meant.

“He was down after the trade but he told me how much he liked us and I thought he might give us a chance if the situation occurred,” said Manuel. “The team kept in touch with Lee’s agent after the season but when the Yankees made their big offer and then Texas got involved I didn’t think it would happen. Ruben (Amaro, general manager) did a real good job of keeping it all quiet and that’s the way a deal is done. Things worked out for us because he wanted to come back and play for us.

“A sportswriter called me 10:30 at night to say the Yankees had announced the Phillies got Lee then about a half hour later Ruben called to tell me the same thing. I was totally surprised but it was a good Christmas present.”

Manuel agreed it has been a long time since any team has had four starters with the experience and talent the Phillies rotation of Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels possesses.

“Atlanta, the Mets and Baltimore had good rotations but it’s been a while since anyone had what we have,” Uncle Charlie said with a big smile. “Like Cliff said when he came back, we still need to pitch and win because talk doesn’t get it done. The Giants proved in the World Series there are always two teams playing and they both want to win.”

Admitting the only open spot in the Phillies’ everday starting eight is in right field, Manuel indicated he wasn’t really concerned about that either.

“Dominic Brown is definitely a good candidate along with Ben Francisco,” said Manuel. “Brown in Double-A last year was probably the best hitter in the league so we want to see him play. Francisco can hit but hasn’t been given a chance to break out and play so maybe he’ll get that chance.”

Sandberg, the new manager at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, is more than happy to be returning to the franchise that gave him his pro start before trading him away to the Chicago Cubs.

“My time in Reading (1980) was a big year for me that helped me move up to Philadelphia and then was traded with Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus which was rather ironic because we were all shortstops,” Sandberg recalled. “I played third my first year with the Cubs then they told me I was being moved to second so I worked with Larry who took me under his wing and made me feel comfortable. He taught me the right way to do all the little things and take pride in everything you do on the field. I played with him for the next four seasons so he was very instrumental in any success I had.”

During his illustrious 16-year playing career, ‘Ryno’ was a 10-time National League All-Star and won nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger awards. He retired in 1994, then returned to the Cubs in 1996, retired again the next year and finishing his career with a .285 batting average, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBI and 344 stolen bases in 2,164 games.

He was elected to the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

“One of the smartest things I did when I retired in ’97 was remain with the Cubs as an instructor and work under several different managers,” Sandberg said. “After eight years of doing that I asked about doing some managing and they gave me the job in A-ball at Peoria and spent last year at Triple-A Iowa.

“When Lou Pinella retired and I didn’t get the Cubs job I was disappointed but that’s baseball,” Sandberg continued. “The Phillies called me less 24 hours later to say if I was interested they might have a spot for me. Less than 30 days later I met with them so it has worked out well for me. So, here I am 32 years later back where I started with the same club because it felt right.”

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