Don’t judge a book by its cover

“He has the IQ of a shoelace.”

This was how I described Charlie Manuel to my co-workers at the BG News in 2002.

The Indians weren’t having a good season, and I was venting. But I also was trying to show them I could be biting if I needed to be. I’d been with the paper a semester and this was my way of lobbying for columns.

It must have worked, because I’ve been writing columns pretty much ever since.

And yet, it’s not my proudest moment. If anything, it showed my own ignorance.

Manuel was the Indians’ highly-respected hitting coach when he was promoted to manager in 2000. In his first two seasons, he won more than 90 games. In 2001, the Indians won the Central Division, but were felled in the opening round of the playoffs by the 116-win Mariners.

Normally, that type of performance would get a man some job security.

But in Cleveland, Manuel was never appreciated, least of all by me. When then-Tribe General Manager John Hart fired Mike Hargrove in 1999, he talked about how the Indians needed to get to the “next level.”

Two years earlier, Cleveland had come within two outs of the World Series title.

That “next level” only could mean one thing.

But it wasn’t just not reaching ridiculous expectations that made Manuel the subject of ridicule. It also was his way of speaking.

Manuel, a West Virginia native, spoke with a deep southern accent that at times made him hard to understand.

And this is why I’m not proud.

Because of the way he talked, I believed Manuel wasn’t smart. My friends and I would mock his accent, and call him “Foghorn Leghorn” after the chicken from Looney Tunes.

The Indians cut payroll in 2002 and the team faltered. By the All-Star break, Manuel’s tenure in Cleveland was over.

Three years later, he was hired to manage the Phillies. On a blog I was writing at the time, I offered that Manuel was hired as a favor to then-Phillies slugger Jim Thome, who was close to Manuel when both were in Cleveland. I also wondered (half-jokingly) if Manuel was smart enough to handle the double switch.

Then Manuel spent the next five years making all of his critics look stupid.

Five Division titles.

Two World Series appearances.

The 2008 World Series championship, Philadelphia’s first since 1980.

There’s the “next level” John Hart was talking about.

You don’t have that type of success by accident. Manuel proved he not only was smart, but he was one of the best in his profession.

After a while, I began to wonder if one more World Series win could put Manuel in the Hall of Fame.

But as it always happens in sports, no success lasts forever (well, unless you’re former Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres). The Phillies fell on hard times, and Manuel was let go.

He says he wants to manage again. I hope he gets the chance.

For me, Manuel was a life lesson. As a player, he found the bulk of his success in Japan, where he hit 189 homers. As a coach, he helped mold hitters like Thome, Manny Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. But it was manager Mike Hargrove who got most of the credit.

When he finally got his chance to manage a big league club, only one thing would satisfy. When it didn’t happen in Cleveland, there had to be some question if Manuel would get another shot.

He did, and he made the most of it.

He proved me and many others wrong.

Manuel, now 69, said he wants to manage again. There are sure to be skeptics.

But I hope he gets that chance, if only to prove people wrong again.