The Phillies are currently getting ready for another season of baseball. One in which many fans expect the team will make amends for a less-than-satisfying 2012 season.
Yes, 2013 will see a healthy Ryan Howard return to first base. No longer hobbled by a damaged Achilles, Howard will be expected to post batting numbers that more reflect his past: say 30 to 35 home runs and 100 RBIs. Second baseman Chase Utley, he of the chronically bad knees, is also expected to be his on-and off-the-field leader self, driving in key runs and smacking home runs with laser-like efficiency.
Should Howard and Utley resume their careers at a high level, and should Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee once again anchor a take-no-prisoners starting rotation, this season's version of the Fightins' should return to the playoffs, last year's absence following a five-year run of NL East championships an anomaly.
Overriding all this drama is the status of the Phillies' manager, Charlie Manuel. The man who captained those five straight titles that included the 2008 World Series Championship - only the second in franchise history - is entering 2013 on the final year of his contract. Joining Manuel on the coaching staff for 2013 is Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs' Hall of Famer who managed the Phillies' Triple A team in 2012 and is the apparently anointed successor to Manual as manager. A quick reminder - during the Phillies' first-half treading water performance in 2012 there were more than a few fans who wanted to send Charlie to the old folks' home.
Charlie Manuel, at the age of 69, has said he wants to manage next season, whether it's in Philadelphia or another major-league city. What happens during this season of redemption will determine his whereabouts. Age should play no role in a decision. Manuel, despite some serious past health issues, looks to be in fine shape. Has he worn out his welcome like Andy Reid did with the Eagles? Well, that's a point of view to be considered, but Manuel's positives outweigh his negatives. A poor season by the Phillies could tip the scales to the negative.
Regardless of how it all plays out in 2013, the Charlie Manuel years in Cheese Steak City have been the best in franchise history. No Phillies manager has won more games. No Phillies manager has been more supportive of his players. No Phillies manager has, in turn, been better supported by his players. He helped turn a horribly weak franchise into a perennial champion. This season Manuel will pass 1,000 victories (he had 220 in 21/2 seasons with Cleveland and has 727 with the Phillies for a total of 947).
Charlie Manuel deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. His Hall of Fame credentials are not just statistical, they're reflected in his career as a baseball lifer, someone who has given more to the game than it has given to him. Jim Thome is among several Hall-of-Fame bound players who has benefited from Manual's guidance. Selection to the Hall of Fame is rare for a manager. There are 19. Charlie Manuel should join that group when he decides to hang up his uniform.