10/21/08 9:42 PM EST
Consistency marks Manuel's style
Phils respond under pressure to manager's laid-back methods
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
With the help of Bonnie Clark, the Phillies' vice president for communications, and squeakyducks.com, each player and coach had a specially designed rubber duck sitting on the top shelf of his locker, a gift from their 64-year-old, old-school manager.Ducks? Rubber ducks? The meaning of this gesture is simple to decipher and speaks to the Manuel's always-keen ability to read his players. He's their manager and understands his place in their world. So when second baseman Chase Utley, who demands players remove the "rubber duck" from a part of their body when he feels the team is playing too tight, said this to Manuel after a Game 3 loss to Milwaukee, it struck a chord. "The game wasn't going too good," Manuel said. "We were in the training room after the game, and Chase Utley thought I was tight. I thought to myself, 'OK, that's good.' " After the Phillies clinched the National League pennant against the Dodgers, Manuel decided his players need to stay loose and play like they always have. "So I bought them some rubber ducks," he said. "Before they go on the field, they look in their lockers and see a duck. It means play like they always have. Don't get caught up in [the hype]. This is just another game. We plan on coming out winners." There's Lucky Duck, Gothic Duck, Biker Duck, Outback Duck, Pop Duck and others, with each exhibiting characteristics of the players. Manuel and the clubhouse tried to match accordingly. The grander idea here speaks to Manuel's never-ending ability to read his clubhouse, and his laid-back managerial style makes his players respond to pressure. Aware that the team that gets four wins faster is crowned the best team for the 2008 season, Manuel prefers to let players laugh, something they did as each discovered their duck. The tight group that fell in 2007 to the Rockies has been replaced by a determined and focused bunch. This comes from Manuel, who stayed to manage Game 2 of the NL Championship Series on Oct. 10, despite hearing hours earlier that his 87-year-old mother, June Manuel, had passed away. He had to be with his team, because his mother would've wanted it that way. Manuel often had to fight for a meal as one of 11 children and was thrust into a leadership role at 19 years old, when his father, Charles Sr., committed suicide. He hit a home run for his high school team on the day of his father's funeral, in 1963. He worked at a mill in his hometown of Buena Vista, Va., giving most of his paycheck to his mother and using what was left to help support a wife and child. He manages with his gut and never lies to his players. In a world where players are millionaires, he massages egos and lights a spark when necessary. He knows who he is and demands accountability. He's come along way without forgetting where he's come from -- he never misses a thing. "I watch him in the dugout," veteran starter Jamie Moyer said. "He's watching the game and knows exactly what's going on. He sits in that corner in Philadelphia and watches his players. He watches what's going on in the dugout. I don't know what exactly he's looking for, but there's something to what he's doing. Some of that is 'who's into the game.' He has an adept ability to realize that." If a player struggles, Manuel puts him back out there, because he knows the player will succeed the next time. "I gave up a grand slam against Chicago, and he said he was going to run me back out there," reliever Chad Durbin said. "He said, 'I'm going to ride you until you buck. When you do, I'll give you a break, then put you back into a situation.' Two days later, I was out there and I got some outs." When Manuel is tested, he'll shoot back. He benched MVP Jimmy Rollins twice this season, once for not hustling and once for being late to the park. Although Rollins didn't agree on the second of the two benchings, he respected his manager's decision. Respect is key in Manuel's clubhouse. After any loss that the manager deems tough, he'll wander through the clubhouse and seek out players. It doesn't matter if the player got a key hit or made a key mistake; the tone remains the same. Forget about this and get ready for the next game. "If he needs to get on you, he will, but at the same time, he's walking through every day making sure everybody knows he's on your side," Durbin said. "He's super consistent." Consistent, just as he reminds all the players to relax for the World Series. "Nothing is different just because it's the World Series," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "Don't change a thing." As for the ducks, the players also gave one to Manuel. "I wasn't supposed to get one," he said. "But that's OK."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.