Hartman: Manuel recalls his Twins days fondly

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2012 - 7:28 AM

 The Phillies manager was an average player, but learned to run a team in the Minnesota farm system.

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Philles manager Charlie Manuel

Photo: Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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Charlie Manuel, now the manager of the Phillies, spent a long time in the Twins organization as hitting coach and minor league manager. One of his favorite squads that he coached, and still talks about, was the 1987 Portland farm club. The Beavers, who suffered much like the Twins did last year with a 45-96 record, had some familiar names on their roster.

Playing in the Pacific Coast League as the Twins' Class AAA affiliate, they finished 39 games out of first place. But the team included current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who hit .272 with 50 RBI and 49 runs scored; current Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, who hit .285 with 71 RBI; Twins third base coach Steve Liddle, who played in three games for the squad, going hitless in 10 at-bats; and former Rochester Red Wings manager Tom Nieto, who played in 38 games, hitting .227.

"The Portland club, I don't know if we want to talk about that or not, that right there puts some age on me," said Manuel, who is now 70. "Gardenhire was a pretty good player. He swung the bat real good. He was a pretty good hitter -- he was a good player when I had him.

"I probably learned more about baseball that year than I ever have in my life, and also learned a lot about myself. That was a long season."

There was some question in the mind of current Twins farm director Jim Rantz regarding whether Manuel could be a manager in the big leagues. He told Manuel he would have a better chance of being a hitting coach.

Manuel fooled people

However, Manuel has fooled a lot of people, going 675-522 over eight seasons with the Phillies while posting a career winning percentage of .557, which is good for 24th-best all-time and third best amongst all active managers, trailing Joe Girardi of the Yankees and Davey Johnson of the Nationals.

In three years with the Indians, Manuel went 220-190, finishing in second place in 2000 and first in 2001 before being fired midway through 2002 after posting a 39-47 record. He took over as manager of the Phillies three years later in 2005, and after two seasons, he won the NL East in 2007 but was swept in the first round of the playoffs. He took the squad to back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009 -- winning the '08 series over Tampa Bay in five games and losing the '09 series in six against the Yankees.

Getting back to his days with the Twins, Manuel said: "Those days I lived in Minnesota, they were absolutely great."

Manuel said in his days scouting with the Twins, Tony Oliva would stay with him and they would travel to games together.

"We'd take batting practice and throw to each other. Then when he played those old-timers games, he'd go to Chicago and hit these home runs. I would watch him and he would hit these towering home runs. He'd get on there and people would be interviewing him and he wouldn't tell them that he had been taking batting practice and been hitting.

"He was our minor league roving hitting instructor at that time and he used to come and stay with me a lot -- also when I was in Orlando and at Triple-A. I think at Triple-A he was a big league coach at that time, but when I was in Double-A he would come stay with us and he and I would hit all the time."

Manuel was with the Twins from 1969-1972 hitting .199 (73-for-366) in 223 games. He had 40 RBI and 25 runs scored and four home runs. And while his average wasn't great, he was able to draw a lot of walks, boosting his on-base percentage to .276.

As a player, Manuel said: "I would have a hard time getting to play. I was young and I had a lot to learn and things like that. I think if I would have been more dedicated and more prepared, and if I would have took time to learn a little bit quicker, that I would have been a good player for the Twins. But it was tough for me to get to play, they had a good team. I didn't particularly like sitting on the bench but I loved all my teammates and I love all the people there in Minnesota, they treated me great."

As for Jim Thome, who had played for Manuel at Cleveland, Manuel was glad to get him back in Philly.

"Thome played the last two days against the Orioles [before the Twins series], and the first day [Friday] he got three hits, a couple doubles, [Saturday] he hit a home run, a solo home run to left field, then he got a big hit to tie the game. He's hitting fourth and DH'ing. He's been doing pretty good," Manuel said.

Thome hit a two-run homer Wednesday against the Twins.

Wild to bid for Parise

If Zach Parise, the former North Dakota hockey star and one of the top five players in the NHL, doesn't sign with the Wild as a free agent it won't be because of the money he would be offered.

Craig Leopold, the owner of the Wild, has informed several of his close friends that the Wild will top the offer that Parise gets from other teams if he becomes a free agent.

No doubt the Wild are hurting in the sales of season tickets and need a real boost in interest. Parise would do that, and the word is that the Wild offer definitely will top that of his current squad, the New Jersey Devils.

Jottings

• Twins president Dave St. Peter reports that the Twins are doing well in the no-show department, having only 12 percent of ticket buyers not showing up, while the major league average is 20 percent.

• One reason that Gophers hockey star Nick Bjugstad will consider not signing a pro contract and coming back to school is the possibility of an NHL strike.

• ESPN baseball writer Keith Law did a post of the players to know for the 2013 MLB draft, and Gophers pitchers Tom Windle and D.J. Snelten were listed. Law wrote about Windle: "I ran into Windle in the relocated Dairy Queen Classic in 2009; he reminded me of [former Twins first-round draft pick] Kyle Gibson at the same age, a loose, very projectable starter [different arm, though] who could grow into first-round velocity over the next two years."

• Josh Willingham was largely viewed as a replacement for Michael Cuddyer after the former Twins star signed with the Colorado Rockies, and so far this season Willingham is outperforming Cuddyer offensively. Cuddyer is hitting .271 with seven home runs, 39 RBI, 21 doubles and 32 runs scored. Meanwhile, Willingham is hitting .287 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI, 18 doubles and 36 runs scored for the Twins, including a home run Wednesday night.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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