PHILADELPHIA — With Charlie Manuel seated to his left, Ruben Amaro Jr. broke down in tears after announcing he fired his manager.
It was that emotional for the general manager and many associated with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Manuel was let go Friday in the middle of a terrible second half, ending the most successful run in club history. Hall of Famer and former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, the Phillies’ third base coach, replaced Manuel for the start of a 10-game homestand.
The Phillies didn’t play any better for Sandberg and lost 4-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in his debut. They have lost 20 of 24.
It wasn’t an easy night, or day, for anyone in the organization.
“You people may not know the relationship I’ve had with Charlie. He’s a special person. This is difficult for me. I hope he stays in our organization,” said Amaro, who took over as GM after Manuel led the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008.
The managerial change didn’t help Friday night.
Zack Greinke (11-3) pitched three-hit ball into the eighth inning and Hanley Ramirez homered to lead the streaking Dodgers to a victory over Sandberg and the slumping Phillies.
“It was a roller coaster of a day emotionally,” Sandberg said. “It affected me and I think it affects the players. … Tomorrow hopefully we’ll get back to work and the game goes on.”
The 69-year-old Manuel, the winningest manager in club history, was in the final year of his contract and wanted to manage another two or three seasons.
“I never quit nothing and I didn’t resign,” Manuel said, making it clear he was pushed out the door.
Manuel had been a folksy presence in the Phillies’ dugout since the beginning of the 2005 season. He wasn’t a popular choice in Philadelphia when former GM Ed Wade hired him to replace Larry Bowa, but he became a beloved figure in a tough city.
“I think we’re all a little upset, a little sad,” second baseman Chase Utley said. “It’s not easy to see the guy you play for, for nine years, not behind the batting cage right now watching batting practice. It’s difficult.
“Charlie brought out the most in his players. He was a man you could walk up to and he was the same every day. He was always going to give that positive energy and a lot of times that translated to the field.”
“I definitely enjoyed Charlie and liked playing for him,” added left-hander Cliff Lee said. “I thought he did a good job. It’s definitely our fault. We weren’t getting it done.”
Lee (10-6) pitched well on Friday night, but the Phillies couldn’t provide any offense, finishing with three hits while getting shut out for the 11th time this season.
Philadelphia hopes to turn things around under Sandberg.
“He’s a quiet guy, but when he speaks everybody listens,” All-Star slugger Domonic Brown said. “Guys definitely know he knows what he’s talking about.”
Sandberg managed the Phillies’ Triple-A team at Lehigh Valley the previous two seasons. He was part of one the most lopsided trades in baseball history when the Phillies traded him and Bowa to the Cubs for shortstop Ivan DeJesus in 1982.
“I must say that, for me, I recognize this day as Charlie Manuel Day,” Sandberg said at his first news conference. “What he’s meant to the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization, what he’s meant to the fans, the championships, the World Series, he’s tops in the organization for what he did here. I really enjoyed my nearly three years with him in spring training and being here in Septembers, and this year especially being with him on a daily basis. I wish Charlie the best with whatever he intends to do, and he left a big footprint here in Philadelphia.”
Amaro said Sandberg takes over on an interim basis and would be evaluated after the season. Sandberg inherits a team that dropped to 5-20 since the All-Star break and is 211/2 games out of first place.
“These guys are professional players, they’re getting paid well,” Sandberg said. “Sometimes players have to dig deeper, play with pride, play with heart and for the name on the front of the uniform.”
Manuel won his 1,000th game as manager on Monday in Atlanta. Two days later, he sat in the dugout knowing it would be his last game after Amaro informed him of the decision not to extend his contract.
“I think sometimes people forget how much I love to win,” Manuel said. “I think that goes unnoticed. I think sometimes I don’t talk about it, because I push it to my team and how important it is. Every day, I say our No. 1 priority is to win the game. When we get away from that, we get into trouble. I love everything about managing, and I think for us, the last couple years to fall back, I get upset very much so. I want us to stay where we were at, I want to compete for a World Series every year.”
Manuel led Philadelphia to the franchise’s second World Series title in 2008 08 and brought the team back to the Series in 2009, when it lost to the Yankees in six games.
Manuel was 780-636 with the Phillies and won five straight NL East titles from 2007-11. He also spent three years as manager with the Cleveland Indians, winning the AL Central in 2001.
Even with an aging roster, the Phillies were expected to contend in the NL East this season, but the team has fallen apart.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay has missed most of the season with an injury. First baseman Ryan Howard also has been out with an injury. High-priced reliever Jonathan Papelbon has struggled to close, and apart from Utley and Brown, the Phillies haven’t hit much.
“We let down not only him, we let down the organization, we let down the fans,” said lefty Cole Hamels, who is 5-13. “But I think ultimately, we let each other down. We really have to get back up and discover who we are, and what we’re playing for. And go out there and do it.”
Manuel’s abrupt dismissal angered many fans, who called into talk-radio stations to express their bitterness. Most blame Amaro for the Phillies’ decline.
Amaro has made several questionable moves since replacing Pat Gillick. His decision to give Howard a $125 million contract nearly two years before he was set to become a free agent has handcuffed the team financially along with other big-money deals.
“This isn’t a blame game,” Amaro said. “I’m not here to blame Charlie for our issues. We all have a part in it.”