O's should follow Series' leaders

Baseball Insider

October 28, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

PHILADELPHIA - On one end of the major league baseball managerial spectrum sits the Philadelphia Phillies' Charlie Manuel, baseball's folksy uncle with the country drawl and the zany stories.

On the other is the Tampa Bay Rays' Joe Maddon, the sport's Renaissance man, who quotes Winston Churchill and Bruce Springsteen and spices up pre-game talks with SAT vocabulary words like ameliorate.

Their personalities and life interests might differ, but each is the perfect fit for his team.

They've weathered rough times and received votes of confidence from their bosses. Eventually, patience and continuity paid off.

Therein lies an important lesson of the 2008 World Series for the Orioles, for club president Andy MacPhail and for owner Peter Angelos.

Dave Trembley is the Orioles' fourth manager in five years. He is under contract through 2009 with an option for 2010. If recent tradition holds, another poor season could cost Trembley his job.

After all, the adage is you can't fire 25 players.

The Orioles, though, run counter to that argument. Firing 25 might be extreme, but canning 20 to 22 might be the best long-term course of action.

If Trembley isn't the right man for this Orioles team, then get a new team, or most of a new one anyway. Find one that he can teach fundamentals to, one that will appreciate his honesty and his dedication. Find one that mirrors his strengths.

That's what Tampa Bay and Philadelphia did.

Manuel is probably the most beleaguered manager in baseball. The "Fire Charlie" clock ticks in perpetuity. Part of it is demeanor. He doesn't appear confident or, at times, competent. He stumbles, rambles and butchers the English language.

But then ask him about hitting and he morphs into an astrophysicist. Then look at his record and see a .543 winning percentage.

Manuel has been with the Phillies for four tumultuous seasons - only the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox, St. Louis Cardinals' Tony La Russa and Colorado Rockies' Clint Hurdle have longer tenures with their current National League teams. He's steady and likable. And he is willing to absorb blame - essential for a talent-laden, veteran club.

Ask his former or current players about Manuel and you get effusive praise. Chicago White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome, a Manuel protege in Cleveland and Philly, came here this week to watch the World Series and support his old manager.

"When you get former players doing that, I think it speaks volumes," Maddon said. "I think that Jimmy showing up [Sunday] indicates what kind of guy Charlie is."

Maddon, with three seasons in Tampa Bay, already has the second-longest consecutive managing streak in the American League East, behind only the Boston Red Sox's Terry Francona.

He is overwhelmingly positive and professorial and refreshingly off-center. He's an avid reader, a history buff and a big fan of the television show The Office. His goal was to expunge the negative culture from the Rays' clubhouse by preaching the team concept. He illustrated it with slogans befitting a high school football coach.

And his young, rich charges bought into his product. Sound like a familiar goal?

It's what the Orioles need to do throughout the next few years, throughout the impending bad times.

Trembley, interestingly, fits snugly in the middle of the personality scale between Manuel and Maddon.

Like Manuel, he's uncomfortable in the spotlight but excels in small groups.

Like Maddon, he has an incredible memory and a genuine interest in everyone he deals with.

Like both, Trembley was a small-town kid and limited athlete who fell so deeply in love with the sport that he became a baseball lifer.

Like both, Trembley is a born teacher who isn't afraid to set and enforce rules.

From Maddon, Trembley could learn not to take losses so personally, to accept that this is the necessary and painful payment due before improvement can occur.

From Manuel, Trembley could learn the importance of staying genuine and not altering his personality while riding the managerial roller coaster.

"The same old Charlie," Manuel said. "I'm the same manager I was when I managed in Triple-A or Double-A or A ball."

He might not have perfected verb conjugation, but Manuel's homespun logic is right on.

"The players is what makes a good manager," Manuel said. "If you go ask any manager in baseball, if he's got any sense, he'll tell you that he has to have good players. ... Give me five Cole Hamels and four [Brad] Lidges in the bullpen, I'll be very good."

Give Trembley team-oriented talent, and he'll be better than any other skipper the Orioles have had since Davey Johnson.

Saddle him with similar talent to the past decade's, and mix in impossible expectations, and you might as well fire him before spring training.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned by this World Series. One of the most obvious is this: Being patient and sticking with a good baseball man beats hiring the flavor of the year every time.

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