MLB

Opinion: Phillies go old school by bringing back 75-year-old Charlie Manuel to rescue season

It’s like yanking the microphone away from Drake and calling Barry Manilow to the stage.

It’s like leaving your Tesla at the door and driving away in a Ford Escort.

When the Philadelphia Phillies announced Tuesday morning they had fired 50-year-old hitting coach John Mallee and are replacing him with 75-year-old Charlie Manuel, it brought out all of the jokes.

Come on, this can’t be serious, believing a man who was last a major-league hitting coach 20 years ago, suddenly is supposed to be the savior to the Phillies’ season?

Then again, we also laughed when the New York Mets did the same thing back in June, firing pitching coach Dave Eiland and replacing him with 82-year-old Phil Regan?

Six weeks later, we’re watching the Mets play better than any team in baseball, going 21-7 since the All-Star break, yielding a major-league leading 2.89 ERA, and are now just one game out of a wild-card berth.

So, should anyone really mock the Phillies’ stunning move?

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, two NL pennants and the franchise's second World Series championship, in 2008. (Photo: Eileen Blass, USA TODAY Sports)

If old-school worked for the Mets, why in the world can’t it work for the Phillies?

Sure, on the surface, it seems rather extreme for a franchise that has indoctrinated the new wave of analytics and fancy spread sheets throughout the organization under GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler to suddenly revert to a slide ruler and spray charts under Manuel.

The man managed the Phillies for nine years, winning a World Series championship, two pennants and five division titles, but Manuel’s last game in uniform was six years ago on Wednesday.

Now, he’s being asked to step in with just 44 games left, incorporate his own beliefs and hitting philosophy on a manager young enough to be his grandson.

Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. This is a team sitting in first place with the second-best record in the National League on May 29, averaging 5.1 runs a game. They since have gone 27-36, plummeted to fourth place in the NL East, averaging just 4.4 runs a game.

They rank in the bottom half in nearly every statistical offensive category in the National League.

  • They are ninth in scoring at 4.72 runs a game.
  • Tenth in on-base percentage, .322.
  • Eleventh in homers, 149.
  • Twelfth in slugging percentage, .417.
  • Thirteenth in slugging percentage off fastballs, .442.

They went 2-5 on their last trip to Arizona and San Francisco, getting one-hit one game, three-hit another, and going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position in another.

Then again, as we’ve seen this year, coaching changes have had a way of rescuing managers’ jobs.

Remember when manager Davey Martinez looked like he be fired at any moment in Washington, only for the Nats to fire pitching coach Derek Lilliquist on May 2 and promote minor league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart? The Nats have gone 44-24 since May 24, the second-best record in the National League.

The Mets were supposed to fire manager Mickey Callaway in May. And again in June. And July.

Callaway may now be your National League manager of the year if they reach the playoffs.

GABE KAPLER: Will he finish out the season as Phillies manager?

OLD SCHOOL: Phillies hire Charlie Manuel as hitting coach

We’ll soon see if Manuel can make the same type of impact.

You don’t spend $330 million on Bryce Harper and another $60 million on Andrew McCutchen, trade for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, and bring in Jay Bruce, Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller as reinforcements, and idly sit back.

No one is suggesting this is all Mallee’s fault. He’s not responsible for Harper’s league-leading 137 strikeouts, or why Rhys Hoskins went 2-for-24 without an RBI on the last trip and certainly can’t be blamed for the Phillies’ pitching woes.

Mallee was stunned when informed Tuesday that his services were no longer needed, but if things don’t change, there could be sweeping coaching changes this winter.

So, the Phillies figured why not give Manuel a try. He lives and breathes hitting, anyways. He would rather be standing behind a batting cage than sleeping in his own bed. And he was already being paid as a special assistant.

Maybe old-school ideas will reinvigorate this offense, reminding everyone this is still a game played by human beings, and not on computer screens.

If it works, maybe it’s time to bring back those who were cast aside decades ago.

Come on down, 88-year-old Jack McKeon. You too, Whitey Herzog, 87. There’s a spot for you too, Roger Craig, 89. Tommy Lasorda, 91, you ready?

In this new era dominated by analytically-driven front offices and computer geeks who believe the answers can be found with a stroke on the keyboard, maybe experience once again can be valued in the game.

The old-school hasn’t gone away quite yet, with Manuel now proudly carrying on the legacy.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

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