Indians Try Manuel Steering

Charlie Manuel was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his dream of managing in the majors someday.

If it meant dragging an infield by himself in Wisconsin or digging a hole for home plate, Manuel would do it. If it meant tossing balls for players to hit into a net or loaning a minor leaguer 20 bucks for dinner, that was OK, too.

"I'm a baseball man," Manuel said. "Baseball has been my whole life and if someone likes baseball more than me, I haven't met him."

Manuel, who as a hitting instructor helped the Cleveland Indians score more runs than any team 49 years, was introduced as the team's 37th manager on Monday.

Indians general manager John Hart ended a search that took him outside the Cleveland organization but wound up back in the Indians' dugout.

Manuel has never managed in the major leagues but is a player favorite in Cleveland and has worked for the last six years as the Indians hitting instructor.

Under his guidance, the Cleveland lineup produced 1,009 runs last season, more than any team since the Boston Red Sox scored 1,027 in 1950.

Manuel's former boss, Mike Hargrove, was fired after the Indians collapsed in the first round of the AL playoffs against Boston. Cleveland went up 2-0 in the series but lost the next three games, giving up 44 runs along the way.

That loss was the latest playoff frustration for a team that has won five straight AL Central titles and two league pennants but still hasn't won the World Series.

When Hart fired Hargrove, he talked about finding a manager who could take the Indians to the next level that elusive World Series title. Manuel made it clear he knows what the goal is.

"The only way we're going to get national recognition, I know, is to win a World Series," Manuel said. "Believe me, I'm starting to work for October. I want it to go down to the end of October."

Hart also promised to find a "new voice and new energy" in the clubhouse and in the past two weeks he interviewed former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman, former Toronto manager Cito Gaston and Yankees hitting coach Chris Chambliss.

But Hart said his familiarity and respect for Manuel outweighed the credentials of the other candidates, including Gaston's two World Series titles with the Blue Jays.

"It's based on the fact that we know him there are no gray areas," Hart said. "Charlie's going to bring a new atmosphere and a new environment into the clubhouse with his day-to-day relationships with the players."

Manuel has great rapport with many of the Indians, who have relied on him for hitting advice. He often has worked with players before games, tossing balls they hit into a net. All the while he has kept them loose with wisecracks in his est Virginian drawl.

But Manuel knows there will be times ahead when he'll have to be tough with his players.

"As a coach, I've always been straight and direct with my players," Manuel said. "I don't think that I'll change as a manager. I think I'm very honest. I'll look you right in the face and tell you what I think."

Before joining the Indians' staff in 1993, Manuel managed the club's Triple-A affiliates in Colorado Springs and Charlotte. In '92, he led Colorado to the Pacific Coast League title and was honored as the league's manager of the year.

The next year, he took Charlotte to an International League title and began forming a strong relationship with such young future stars as Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.

Thome skipped a hunting trip to sit in on the news conference announcing Manuel's promotion.

"He's fun, he's electric and he's knowledgeable," Thome said. "Charlie has a lot of energy and as a player you just love that. He is a joy to be around. This is a great day for Charlie and the Indians."

Manuel played 19 years as an outfielder in the minors, majors and in Japan. He spent three seasons with the Minnesota Twins (1969-71) and parts of two years (1974 and '75) with the Dodgers. He then went to Japan where he starred for the Yakult Swallows and Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1976-81.

He hit 192 homers during his time in Japan, connecting for 48 in 1980. After hitting .324 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs in 1979, he was named MVP, the first American to receive the honor.

After he retired, Manuel joined the Twins as a minor league manager and remembered his Wisconsin Rapids team getting off to a rough start.

"We jumped out 7-27 and I thought I knew a lot about baseball," he said. "But then I came to the conclusion all I knew was a little bit about how to play right field and I wasn't very good at that."

Once during a minor league game, Manuel got on one of his pitchers about not throwing strikes. The pitcher responded by telling Manuel the only problem was that home plate was crooked.

"I said, 'What do you mean it's crooked?"' he said. "I put it down myself. He said go back and check it out and I did and it was about a foot and a half off."

By Tom Withers
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