ATLANTA - The news of Charlie Manuel's firing by the Phillies this afternoon made its way through the Nationals' clubhouse prior to tonight's game against the Braves, and one guy had a lot more to offer on the topic than anyone else.
Jayson Werth played under Manuel in Philadelphia for four seasons from 2007-2010, and it's evident from talking with Werth how much he cares about his former manager.
Werth didn't want to discuss the circumstances of Manuel's firing in too much detail, but he was clearly disappointed with how the Phillies chose to end things with their skipper of the last nine years.
"I thought he deserved better," Werth said. "That's about all I want to say on that."
Then Werth went on to talk for another 15 minutes about how much Manuel meant to him and impacted his career.
"I owe him a lot," Werth said. "I took a lot for me to win him over, but once he put me in there, he believed in me as much if not more than anyone I've ever played for. I owe him a lot. He was the one that kind of pushed me to become the player I became."
So what happens with Manuel now? The Phillies would like Manuel to take a position in their front office, but 69-year-old said today at the press conference announcing his firing that he feels he can still manage another two or three years and that he's going to take some time to consider his options. Werth has a feeling he knows which direction Manuel is leaning.
"I talked to him early in the year and I asked him what he wanted to do. He guaranteed me he would be managing somewhere next year," Werth said. "Time changes things. But at the time when I talked to him then he was adamant he wanted to manage."
Some have mentioned the Nationals as a potential landing spot for Manuel, with Davey Johnson set to step aside after this season. Manuel would provide another experienced voice with World Series credentials under his belt, and some believe he might be a good option to help the Nats take the next step in 2014.
Werth was asked if he'd be interested in having Manuel take the managerial job in D.C.
"Oh, of course," he said. "I don't know if he fits into the organization's plan or whatever, but I mean, I love playing for the guy."
Johnson was asked the same question in regards to Manuel landing with the Nats.
"I think they've had their fill of old managers," the 70-year-old Johnson quipped. "I have no idea. I haven't had those discussions with (general manager Mike Rizzo) and what he has on his mind. (Manuel's) a good one. I like him."
Manuel might have a reputation among fans as a country bumpkin, a guy who stumbles through interviews and makes his walks to the pitcher's mound slowly and with a hitch in his giddy-up.
"But behind closed doors or in a one-on-one setting or in the clubhouse or the dugout, he knows what he's talking about," Werth said. "We've had many conversations and arguments and all kinds of things. He's the best manager I ever played for, nothing against Davey. ...
"(In 2007), we would go back and forth about playing time and why I wasn't playing. He would be very frank with me about why he wasn't playing me and where he thought I was as a player. Those things, that pissed me off. That drove me to be better. I didn't like it by any means but when the guy who writes the lineup up is telling you you're not good enough to play, not only will it drive you but some people it might drive to quit. It's not an easy conversation to sit there and listen to somebody, your boss basically, tell you that you suck, many times. That's part of life."
Werth told reporters a story about how early in 2007, when he was competing for playing time in the Phillies' outfield, Manuel gave him a start against the Astros and Roy Oswalt, who was on his way to a strong 14-win season that year. It was a bitterly cold day in Philadelphia, and Werth went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He didn't get another start for the next two weeks and then landed on the disabled list later in the season.
Right before the trade deadline, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn both got hurt, but the Phillies didn't end up completing a trade for another outfielder. They called up Werth, who had hit .235 before going on the DL, and he went 3-for-6 with two doubles and four RBIs in his first game back. He went on to post a slash line of .329/.428/.512 the rest of the season, earned more playing time in 2008, and the rest is history.
"That was really when I knew things were OK with Charlie," Werth said with a smile. "And that's how he is. If you perform for him, he's going to like you. That's how this business is. This is a cutthroat business, as you can tell. The guy gets whacked today. It sucks."
Johnson, too, had some kind words for Manuel after hearing of his firing.
"I know how much he loves the game of baseball and how much he enjoyed managing that ballclub," said Johnson, who goes way back with Manuel to their playing days together in Japan. "He's a character. I'll miss him. He's fun to watch and he's fun to manage against."