Commentary

Manuel gets one last reminder that Mom's always right

Updated: October 30, 2008, 11:35 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The day before June Forrest Manuel died, she talked on the phone with her son Charlie, the famous Philadelphia Phillies manager.

"Charles Jr.," she said (she never called him Charlie), "pray for me. I'm really sick."

"I will, Mom," he said, in that Virginia drawl of his. "And you pray for us, too."

"Don't you worry, son," she said.

That's because the 87-year-old June, who had suffered a heart attack a week earlier, was convinced Charles Jr.'s team was going to win the National League pennant and then win the World Series. She had even told friends that very thing.

That was Oct. 9. On Oct. 10, hours before the Phillies took a 2-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, June Manuel died. But she was right. The Phillies eventually finished off L.A., reached the World Series and, Wednesday night, in the frozen-food section known as Citizens Bank Park, her oldest son won a world championship.

"It couldn't happen to a better feller," he said, laughing.

You should have seen him sitting in his office afterward: a 64-year-old with a smile as wide as the commissioner's trophy. No clubhouse champagne showers for him. But he did admit he had a bottle of whiskey stashed away on a shelf.

People poured into the office to congratulate him. Dallas Green, a former Phillies manager, general manager and team president (and now a special advisor to the GM), was the first to pull Manuel toward him.

"Give me a hug, you big rascal!" Green said. "You are something. I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you. You did it."

World Series: Phillies vs. Rays

Complete coverage of the Phillies-Rays matchup.
Series page
Scouting: Phillies Insider | Rays Insider
"They did it," said Manuel, nodding toward the clubhouse across the hall.

"But you were the boss," said Green.

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas stopped by to shake Manuel's hand. So did assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Meanwhile, Green plopped on a nearby couch and shook his head.

"He showed them what a good baseball man could do," said Green.

The good baseball man got himself fired by the Cleveland Indians in 2002. By his own admission, the bitterness stayed with him. Then the Phillies hired him in 2005. He was mocked here, too. Charlie From Mayberry, they called him.

Manuel heard it all. But if he learned nothing else from his mother, it was toughness.

"I thank my mom," he said, sitting behind his desk. "I think she's pulling for me. I think she's the strength."

For days, weeks, months, Manuel had told the Phillies to win the game in front of them. Even when his mom died, a grieving Manuel concentrated on the next game. He said he owed it to his team. And to June.

Now there are no more games. There are also no more secret Bud Selig pacts, controversial rain suspensions or, as it turns out, Tampa Bay Rays. The Phillies beat them 4-3 in the Series-clinching, frozen-tundra Game 5 that took three days to complete.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Manuel
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesCharlie Manuel's mother, on the day before she died, predicted this day would come, that her son and the Phillies would be celebrating a World Series title.
Just behind Section 113 of the ballpark was a 6-foot-by-11-foot sign that read, Good Luck Charlie & Phillies. From Buena Vista, Virginia. The mayor himself, Mike Clements, had made the six-hour drive from little Buena Vista (pronounced, "Bu-na Vista" -- population, 6,200) this past weekend to deliver it to Phillies public affairs director Scott Palmer.

"I went to the plant manager last Friday and said, 'Can you make me a sign to let Charlie know how proud we are?'" Clements said by phone. "He said, 'What size and what kind?' He put seven people on it. Got it done."

The rural western Virginia town is sweet on Manuel, who was a three-sport star at Parry McCluer High School. His name is on the town square marquee, as well as on a sign entering the city limits.

"He's never forgotten where he came from," Clements said.

And in return, Buena Vista has never forgotten him, either. There's already talk of a ceremony, maybe even a parade.

"I got to check the legalities," Clements said. "I think I have the power to proclaim a 'Charlie Manuel Day.' If not, I'll talk to my city council."

June Manuel raised her family in that town. She was buried there too. Charlie's the one who placed a Phillies cap in her casket. And soon he plans to return to his mom's kitchen and cook her specialty: pot roast, beans and corn bread.

"I think about my mom about every day," he said. "Especially when you get a chance, sitting here by myself, or I'll be home by myself."

And what would she say about her son's winning a world championship?

"She'd be laughin'," he said. "She'd be talkin' about how good a team we had."

June Manuel knew baseball. She also knew her son was no country goober. He had an accent, but he was also smart enough to get a scholarship offer to Penn. And confident? Absolutely. Phillies third base coach Steve Smith said Manuel was so relaxed before the start of Game 5 that the manager nearly nodded off while sitting in his office.

"I thank my mom. I think she's pulling for me. I think she's the strength."

--Charlie Manuel

But Manuel also has a long memory. During the postgame news conference Manuel saw a veteran baseball writer from Cleveland sitting in the audience.

"Why don't you go back to Cleveland and tell them we won a World Series," said Manuel, smiling. "Don't take this a cocky way: I always knew how good I was."

This wasn't vindication as much as it was confirmation. It isn't bragging if you can do it, right?

Manuel's mom bragged about him all the time. Wouldn't you?

"She was a woman of faith," W.A. Mills, her longtime pastor who presided over her funeral, said in a phone interview. "Although she was a very simple lady, she was a very elegant lady, a proud lady, too, in a sense."

Too proud to accept welfare or food stamps, even though she had to support 11 children after her Pentecostal preacher husband died in 1963. Charles Jr. was a senior in high school.

June believed in her God and in her children. So it was no surprise that Charles Jr., after he signed his first pro contract when he was 18, sent a little money home each month to help his mother. And no matter how tight her budget was, June always gave Mills a Christmas card each year with a crisp $100 bill inserted inside.

"I want to make sure you and your family have a good Christmas," she'd tell him.

Mills called her "Sister Manuel." But Sister Manuel's famous son is known simply as "Fook" by the Buena Vista locals -- short for Fuqua, Charlie's middle name.

He'll return to Buena Vista soon enough. He's going back there for a fundraiser for his high school. Tickets are $25 apiece. Better hurry.

And he'll go back to cook that pot roast. And think about his mom.

"Hopefully this is part of his healing process," said Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who calls Manuel one of his best friends. "He's had to deal with the emotions of that [death]. But he's a great man. He's a super man."

When Phillies closer Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to end the Series, Manuel was in the corner of the dugout, his hands on the padded railing. He said he looked up in the sky, looked at the fans, hugged his coaches and then laughed.

"You know what?" he said to himself, "we just won the World Series."

"We." Him and June.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter