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Charlie and Joe

Forget about last night. But don’t forget what happened last week. A local hero was reborn in Philadelphia. Our man, now everybody’s man, Charlie Manuel did it. Charlie took his Phillies to the World Series and beyond. His club won it all – World Champs.

Not bad for a kid from Buena Vista. By now a city worker should have redone those small signs as one enters town. It should say what Mr. Manual has accomplished as well as his managerial title. A light on a large sign would be a nice touch. And what about a parade down Magnolia Avenue before Christmas is here? I know that Magnolia Avenue is not Philadelphia’s Broad Street, but what the heck, it would mean a lot to the man. But more to the town.

Yes, before Charlie Manuel speaks at the Dec. 6 high-school sports banquet, the town needs to do something big. If Charlie can give life to a baseball club that has lost over 10,000 games and, before last week, had only one World Series Championship to show for 125 years of trying, well, Charlie can give his hometown – which has experienced a few lows of its own – a big lift.

Charlie played four sports at Parry McCluer High School. His fist love was basketball, but he saw baseball as a bank, the sport with the money. In 1963, right out of Parry McCluer, he signed with the Minnesota Twins for the grand sum of $20,000. Then he moved on. Overseas to Japan, back to LA and the Dodgers and then on to Cleveland and the Indians.

But that tells you little about 64-year-old Charles Fuqua Manuel, the man. He was born in Northfork, W.Va. (pop. 519) in the dead of winter and a deadly world war. Charlie, if nothing else, is a survivor. Once a pitch crushed his jaw. He returned to baseball wearing football gear, a helmet with a face mask. Then there was the heart attack and quadruple-bypass surgery. Did I mention cancer? While as the Cleveland manager he wore a colostomy bag under his Indians jacket. Then he got fired. Three years later things got worse. Charlie Manuel had to endure the fans of Philadelphia.

Our local hero has experienced it all. Including death. Charlie’s mother died right after managing his Phillies over the Dodgers in the NLCS. Naturally, June Manuel did not stray from Buena Vista – until she visited God after having her 87th birthday. She and her late husband produced 10 children, 24 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. That’s quite a record. As we say in baseball, “You can look it up.”

What else can we learn from a Charlie Manuel? We can learn that you don’t have to worry about where you came from, about being a good ol’ country boy and whether your neck is red, black or white. Our early years are just testing times. It is how you do in the late innings that really counts.

Charlie endures slander without complaint, has tough skin, the courage of his convictions, and is fiercely loyal to his players. What more do you want? How about perspective? “The things that go on here,” he said of the ‘Series, “it kind of gets hectic, and you can definitely lose focus. And if you are not careful, you’ve got to keep things in perspective. To win is hard. To win a World Series is much harder.”

Charlie’s counterpart in the ‘08 ‘Series was Joe Maddon, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. Joe is from another town with which I am familiar, Hazleton, Pa. Except for sitting on top of a mountain of abandoned coal mines, plus a few more houses in need of a fresh coat of paint, Hazleton and Buena Vista have much in common. Both are places where one can say with pride “I used to live in that town.”

However, there is a small difference between these two towns which so much help to define America. But that can easily be corrected. The Hazleton High School diamond is “Joe Maddon Field.”

Joe, like Charlie, is a leader. Leadership only comes from listening and learning. Joe took his team from last to first place in the American League. In one year! With the league’s lowest payroll! Take that, you Yankees and Red Sox fans. Joe now knows that his players will “never be satisfied again with anything less than winning.” Or as he put it while his team was playing in the World Series, “The mind once stretched can never return to its original form.”

So, Charlie and Joe, this Bud’s for you. You have stretched our minds. We will never be the same. We know what we can be.

And where do we get such people? Buena Vista is one place. A coal town in Pennsylvania is another. Charlie and Joe know who they are because they know where they have been. Welcome home.


Column by David Reynolds

augusta free press
augusta free press