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November 03, 2016

New Philly Sports Hall of Famer Charlie Manuel bullish on Phillies future

Two of the most popular sports figures in Philadelphia since the turn of the century were among the 16 new inductees into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Charlie Manuel, the Phillies all-time winningest manager who guided the team to two World Series trips, included a championship in 2008, and Brian Dawkins, the Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate and physical and emotional leader of Andy Reid’s talented Eagles teams, were enshrined with the best of the best in Philly history on Thursday night at the Hilton on City Avenue.

Manuel, who turns 73 in January, got on the path to becoming a major league manager as a respected hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s. Manuel was the hitting coach for Cleveland in 1997, the last time the team had appeared in a World Series before this year.

Manuel won 1,000 games in 12 years as a big league manager, including 780 in nine season with the Phillies, who won five straight division titles under his leadership. On Thursday, Manuel joined the likes of Connie Mack, Jimmie Foxx, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and many others into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

“That’s real good,” Manuel said when those five named were reeled off to him. “They’ve got Moses Malone, Billy Cunningham, guys like that here. I used to keep up with all of those guys. It’s amazing.”

For the last three seasons, Manuel transitioned from managing to working in the front office. He is a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak and has spent the majority of his time working with and scouting minor league hitters and scouring the amateur ranks for prospects.

While most Phillies people are quick to dodge the “what’s the time frame for when you will contend again” question, Manuel basically volunteered his own take, at least from the standpoint of the deep collection of hitting prospects in the farm system and big league roster.

“I’ll say, definitely within the next 2-3 years we’ve got a chance to have a real good hitting ball club in the major leagues,” Manuel said. “And not only that, we’ll have guys talented enough to play defense, run the bases, all of those things.”

As he is wont to do, Manuel spent more than a half hour talking baseball with anyone who would listen on Thursday. Some more highlights:

On if Wednesday’s night’s rain delay brought back memories of the final game of the 2008 World Series: “Thought about it. I sure did. What popped in my mind is I wanted them to start the game right back up and not have to wait until (Thursday) to play. But things worked out pretty good.”

On rooting for the Indians: “I was dead on Cleveland. I was pulling for Cleveland. … I wasn’t surprised that Cleveland came back, but the whole difference of the game is every time Cleveland did something, (the Cubs) answered it. They always kept the momentum going there way.”

On the Phillies hiring Matt Stairs as their new hitting coach: “That’s a good hire. I think he’s going to be a good hitting coach. I’ve talked to him quite a bit about hitting and he’s good. He knows what he’s doing. He has a high passion for hitting.”

On what it takes to be a successful hitting coach: “I think one of the biggest thing it comes down to is communication. You don’t realize how much time you have to spend with every hitter, every day. Every day. And that takes into account the guys who sit on the bench. You have to be ready to come to the ballpark early and be focused on what you’re doing. You have to spend time with them. … He has that. Matt Stairs is a baseball guy.”

On whether he sees any future All-Stars in the Phillies collection of young hitters in the organization: “(Maikel) Franco knocked in 80-some runs, 25 home runs? I was surprised he didn’t hit higher. I look at him a 100-or-better RBI guy. Of course that’s his first full season. But if you look at his age and (talent), I think Matt’s going to help him. … I think Franco gets caught up in it (when he’s going good) and gets real happy… and then loses focus of what he’s trying to do at the plate. Rather than being comfortable and nice and easy at the plate, he’s over-swinging and chasing bad balls. In other words, mentally he’s not ready to hit. I think an everyday conversation, communicating with him on that level, I think it’ll keep him engaged, if that makes sense. He has a chance to be a highly talented hitter.”

On the dynamic duo of Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, who hit a combined 78 home runs at Double-A Reading in 2016: “Both of them are good hitters. Cozens has to cut his strikeouts. Hoskins, he can get (Aroldis) Chapman’s fastball right now. [Laughs] Yeah he can. For me, I like them, I like a lot more than I hear people talking about them.”

On outfield prospect Nick Williams, who struggled at Triple-A during his first full season in the Phillies organization: “Nick Williams has all the talent in the world. When I saw him he was hitting around .290, had some home runs. But in the league he was in, his talent was just getting him by. He needs to be more selective at the plate, needs to work the count. Get in good counts to hit. He’s got as much talent as any of them.”

On Mickey Moniak, the No.1 overall pick in last June’s MLB draft: “I liked three players I saw last year. I liked Moniak, (Kyle) Lewis, and (Blake) Rutherford. Moniak kind of moved ahead of Rutherford out there (in California). I saw him play three games and he had one real good day. But he played good. Runs good. Average arm. And he can have a better arm with a long toss program. But he can run. He’s like (Steve) Finley. The one that played center field for San Diego. Same identical looking player as the kid who plays in Washington. [Trea Turner?] Yep, except (Turner) is right-handed. And he might be quicker in the outfielder than him, too. Same body type.”

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