- The Washington Times
Thursday, October 9, 2008

It’s hard to imagine any business - I mean any business - where Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel have the same job.

Torre exudes competence and confidence. If he were treasury secretary and went on television to tell Americans everything was fine, the stock market would be stable.

Heck, if he were on the stage at Belmont University on Tuesday night along with Barack Obama and John McCain, the polls would show that the Democratic and Republican candidates would be trailing the “Torre” party candidate.

You know, if he managed the New York Yankees, I’ll bet he could win a World Series … oh, he already did that … four times, and led them to the postseason every season he was there from 1996 through 2007.

A generation of baseball fans are growing up for whom the face of postseason baseball is Joe Torre - again now in the postseason, this time as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

How, then, could you possibly think that the guy who has the same job in the other dugout for Game 1 Thursday night of the National League Championship Series - Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel - could possibly manage his team well enough to beat Torre?

I can’t.

Manuel may be a good baseball man, but when he opens his mouth, it’s hard not to notice the contrast between Torre and Manuel. And when you look at the Phillies roster, particularly their big three - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the best trio of players of any team in baseball - it’s hard to rationalize why they haven’t made it this far before.

Manuel’s supporters give him credit for getting the team to the postseason two straight years now. But that might be underachieving, particularly after getting swept by the Colorado Rockies last year in the division series.

The big three came up small in that series, and didn’t exactly set the division series against Milwaukee on fire, either. Utley and Howard were 4-for-26 in those four games.

Manuel, referring to Utley, spoke about his approach to the slumps to reporters Wednesday.

“I hear people say, ‘How come you can’t fix him?’” Manuel said. “How come you can’t fix him? If it was that easy, believe me we’d fix him. But that’s kind of what makes it a game, what makes it a good game.”

Maybe for the opposing team it makes it a good game. Not if you’re a Phillies fan. And it is the manager’s job to fix IT - the team - when one key component is coming up short. Otherwise the players could manage themselves.

It is the manager’s job to figure out how to win when their most important offensive player, Rafael Furcal, goes down with an injury early the season. It’s a manager’s job to figure out how to compete when their high-priced free-agent signing, Andruw Jones, turns out to be a bust. It’s a manager’s job to keep a team together after it has been swept in three games by the Washington Nationals in the final weeks of the pennant race.

And it’s a manager’s job to get new players to fit into the mix, particularly a player who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, like Manny Ramirez.

“I think Casey Blake really sort of changed our personality a little bit,” Torre said. “And then of course Manny did more of that, and [Greg] Maddux, even though he didn’t pitch a great deal for us, made a big difference. And all of a sudden, this ballclub sort of blended together.”

It didn’t just blend together. Torre blended it, just as he did all those years in the always volatile Yankee chaos.

It is hard to believe that Charlie Manuel can beat Joe Torre at anything, save for checkers, so you have to like the Dodgers in this series.

The managers are not the same presence in the American League Championship Series, which starts Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla. Rays manager Joe Maddon did an outstanding job with this young team, and accomplished something I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime - a team other than the Yankees or Red Sox win the AL East.

The Red Sox and Terry Francona will throw Daisuke Matsuzaka against James Shields in the opener - the key game in this series. A win by the Red Sox gives them the split they need in the first two games in Florida. Game 1 seems their best shot for the split, because a beatable-looking Josh Beckett will take the mound in Game 2 for Boston.

If the Red Sox can get to Boston for Game 3 with Jon Lester on the mound, with at least the series even, then it is Boston against Los Angeles in the World Series - Manny’s return to Boston, Torre back in the opposing dugout at Fenway Park.

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