Manuel paid his dues before getting tapped to replace Mike Hargrove at the helm of the Cleveland Indians. An itinerant outfielder in his playing days, Manuel was a minor-leaguer from 1963-1967 before the Twins called him up. Never much of a hitter in the majors, Manuel spent six seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers and their minor league affiliates between 1969 and 1975. For the next six seasons, he starred in Japan, winning the MVP Award in 1979 and setting a record in 1979 for most homers by an American (48) the year after.
After his playing days were over, Manuel spent 15 years as a scout, coach, and manager in the Twins and Cleveland organizations before signing on as the Indians hitting instructor in 1994. He fine-tuned an offense that set a series of franchise records for homers and runs, including a major league best 1,009 runs in 1999. After the ouster of Hargrove, Manuel quickly established a more relaxed and collegial Cleveland clubhouse. Bothered by an infected colon (which eventually required surgery) the new Cleveland skipper led the team to 90 wins in his first season and an AL Central crown in his second.
Players considered Manuel a great communicator. He maintained a locker in the clubhouse so he could occasionally dress with the players and greet them as they came in. During practice and workouts, Manuel preferred a casual, friendly approach, at times engaging in horseplay with his team, sometimes wrestling with players or giving them noogies. Come game time, though, nothing less than 100% was acceptable, from superstars to pinch hitters. The players respected his even-handedness, as pitcher Chuck Finley told The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Friend or not, he’s going to walk up and stomp on you if you don’t do the right thing.
While Manuel was an effective communicator with the players, he was less direct with the press. His Stengel-esque pronouncements quickly gained notoriety around the league. On February 25, 1999 he told a reporter, “That’s what’s good about this game, especially when the season starts, it seems like there’s a lot of other days left.”