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Manuel, Francona have a lot in common

Charlie Manuel, left, and Terry Francona have both managed in Philadelphia and Cleveland. AP Photo, Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA -- Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel go back a ways. In the summer of 1988, Francona logged a 62-game cameo with the Cleveland Indians near the tail end of his playing career. He had bad knees and minimal power for a first baseman-DH, as evidenced by his .311 batting average and .363 slugging percentage that season.

Manuel was the team's hitting instructor, and had a novel way of getting his point across.

"I was kind of scuffling," Francona said. "I was in the hole [in the dugout] and I was having a tough time, and I said, 'Grinder what do you think, man?' He looked at me and in that drawl he says, 'Son, if it was me, I'd hit one over that sign out there.' He goes, 'You -- why don't you just massage one over third?'"

Francona still laughs over the encounter and the impact that Manuel's West Virginia colloquialisms could have on a player's psyche.

"Charlie has a way of making you feel so good about yourself," he said. "That's what I remember. I don't remember any of the mechanical things he told me. I just know he made me feel good about myself."

Francona, who used to manage in Philadelphia, is now the skipper in Cleveland, while Manuel, who got his first shot to be a manager with Cleveland in 2000, is in his ninth year as manager in Philadelphia. Their teams met this week in a two-game interleague series at Citizens Bank Park, and their divergent circumstances are hard to ignore.

Francona is presiding over a baseball awakening in Cleveland, where the Indians just won 10 of 11 to inject themselves into the conversation in the American League Central. He's in the first year of a four-year contract, and is already lifting spirits and elevating hopes in the city -- even if the Indians' average daily attendance of 14,614 (last in the majors) doesn't quite reflect the enthusiasm.

Manuel, in contrast, oversees an aging roster that's still trying to overcome the gut punch of two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay going down with a shoulder injury. He's 69 years old and in the final year of his contract, and the Phillies have a ready-made successor on the staff in third-base coach Ryne Sandberg. Even though the Phils have been able to maintain contact with the Nationals and Braves in the NL East, Manuel is going to continue to appear in managerial "hot seat" speculation as long as the team muddles along below .500.

Bovada, the online sportsbook, recently laid odds on managers likely to be fired, and Manuel led the pack at 4-1. This was before the Dodgers, Angels and Blue Jays all spiraled to the bottom of their division races and ratcheted up the heat on Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia and John Gibbons. But it was instructive nevertheless.

If and when Manuel goes, he will have made his mark in Philly. He led the franchise to a title in 2008 and recently passed Gene Mauch as the longest-tenured manager in club history. Between his stops in Cleveland and Philadelphia, Manuel has a better career winning percentage (.553) than Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson, Joe Cronin and Leo Durocher.

Francona, 54, is building a nice managerial résumé of his own. He won two world championships in Boston, and picked up his 1,051st career victory with a 10-4 win Wednesday. That ties him with Jack McKeon for 51st place on MLB's career list.

If Francona and Manuel have one trait in common in their respective career paths, it's the ability to go with the flow and handle themselves the same way no matter how grim things might look or how intense the pressure might get. When the team is winning, that steadiness is considered a plus. When the losses are piling up, it's suddenly perceived as a "lack of urgency."

It's always a challenge for a manager's message to resonate over time, as players change and the parts don't always fit. When Francona broke the Red Sox curse with a World Series win in 2004, he was hailed as the quintessential "player's manager." When things unraveled in Boston during the infamous chicken-and-beer collapse in 2011, Red Sox ownership concluded that a new voice and a tougher approach were in order. Enter Bobby Valentine.

The concept of changing circumstances and finite shelf lives is something that two longtime baseball men can readily understand and accept. They know it applies regardless of venue, even if some environments are clearly more challenging than others.

Before the Phillies' 6-2 victory over the Indians on Tuesday, Manuel was heading out to the cage to watch his players take their pregame hacks, as is his custom. He was asked if he and Francona have ever exchanged notes on the challenges of managing in Philadelphia, an intense sports town that's not for the faint of heart.

"Tito told me that when he first got the job, he went to a 76ers game and they introduced him and showed his picture up on the scoreboard, and they stood up and booed him," Manuel said with a laugh. "But he never said harsh things about the fans here. He said if you hustle and play hard, they accept you."

Manuel continues to preach the gospel of optimism and patience in Philly. "You can win a lot of games by feeling good about yourself," he said. And Francona made it clear that he's willing to roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work when he signed on with the Indians rather than with a ready-made contender.

"I think the best way to put it is, you take what you're doing really seriously, but you don't take yourself really seriously," Francona said. "You've got to be able to laugh at yourself a little bit. I thought I would get perspective being out of the game a year, but I have zero perspective. When I lose, it still kills me."

Like his former hitting mentor Charlie Manuel -- aka "The Grinder" -- Francona has an intense competitive streak beneath his sense of humor and easygoing manner. Both men have a demeanor that wears well over time. But Francona is the only one with time on his side.