Call 'em Ebony and Ivory. Just DO away with the harmony stuff.
Such is the baseball life of the brothers Manuel: Jerry and Charlie. One is black, the other white. One guy's managing in New York, the other 110 miles down the road in Philadelphia. One guy looks fit and trim and is quick to tell you that in a city called Gotham—where jokers run wild from time to time (especially in the media)—mental and physical conditioning is essential to one's survival. The other guy looks like he's had more than his share of cheesesteaks and isn't bothered by that at all.
It's not blood that connects them, as far as anyone knows. Jerry, the Mets' 54-year-old interim manager, was born in Georgia and grew up near Sacramento. Charlie, the Phillies' 64-year-old fourth-year manager, comes from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Virginia. It's their shared experience in the sport—middling careers as players, many years coaching and managing in the minors, getting fired from jobs in the majors—that makes them like siblings. "Or at least kindred spirits," Jerry tells me on the first night of the most recent showdown for first place in the NL East, at Shea Stadium. "Charlie and I have known each other for more than 20 years. And every time he sees me, he says, 'Jerry, you know the only thing good about you is your last name.' The thing is, he's one fantastic guy. I'm so happy for him and all that he's done managing the Phillies. Gotta tip my hat to him."
Charlie is a survivor. Since taking over for Larry Bowa, in November 2004, Manuel has been dogged by Philly's demanding fans and media. It's his fault if Jimmy Rollins makes an error, if Pat Burrell can't get to first base, if Ryan Howard strikes out too many times or Brett Myers can't pitch. Everything from his down-home, country appearance and manner of speaking to his intellect—yes, that, too!—has been questioned. Yet the Phillies have won at least 85 games in each of Manuel's three full seasons at the helm, beating out the Mets for the NL East pennant last season to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
"If you look at how Charlie walks and talks sometimes, it can seem a bit weird," says Rollins, the MVP shortstop. "But he's smart as hell. The guys on this team have love for Charlie, because a lot of the time we wouldn't know he's the manager if he wasn't leaning over near the top of the stairs in the dugout. But he always knows just the right time to remind you that he's the boss." (Two days after Rollins said this, Manuel would bench him for showing up late for a day game.)
The Mets' Manuel has his own problems, mostly inherited from Willie Randolph, who was fired after a 34–35 start: a team saddled with expectations, periodically appearing disinterested in living up to them; players too busy dancing, wagging their fingers and griping about who talks to the media and who doesn't; a clubhouse rife with underachievers, leaving one manager after another uncomfortably close to the guillotine. As Jerry puts it, "I haven't said a word to my players that's any different from what Willie said to them all season."
Yet Randolph was denied a full year to make amends for last September's historic collapse, in which the Mets surrendered a seven-game lead with 17 games to play. So what do you think will happen to Jerry if he can't get the Mets past the Phillies and into the postseason? "We all know how this business works, especially Jerry," says Charlie, reminding us that his counterpart, a former American League Manager of the Year, was fired after an 86-win season with the White Sox, in 2003. "Sometimes players don't play the way they're supposed to play or do the things they're supposed to do, and it's our job to make changes for the better. If we don't, we don't last long, which is what some would assume about Jerry. But I will say this: Don't assume too much just because he's got the interim tag attached to his title. At the end of the day, we're all here on an interim basis."
Charlie knows this firsthand. He had two 90-win seasons with the Indians before he was fired, in 2002. The list of managers with job security, particularly in major markets, is very short. The brothers Manuel are not on it. "I guess that's what makes us special, huh?" Charlie says.
"No, he's special," Jerry responds. "I'm working on it."
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