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WSI News - News Watch

His head's in the game

March 31, 2002

By Joe Goddard, Chicago Sun-Times

MILWAUKEE--Manager Jerry Manuel's expression might not change in the White Sox' dugout, but his mind does.

''I'm still evolving as a manager and probably always will,'' said Manuel, who begins his fifth season Monday when the White Sox open in Seattle against the Mariners. ''Every year, there are new personalities. Every year, there are new situations.''

Manuel leaves it up to others to determine whether he has adjusted to those challenges.

Deep down, he thinks he has learned to deal with the different personalities that pop up in major-league clubhouses. He has been the boss to individuals such as Albert Belle, David Wells, Jose Canseco and Frank Thomas.

''Through the course of years, I've had many opportunities to study personalities,'' Manuel said Saturday before the Sox played the Milwaukee Brewers in an exhibition game at Miller Park. ''If there's one thing I think I've learned, it's not to judge someone until you've observed them.''

He points to the arrival of Canseco, an AL MVP and six-time All-Star, in the middle of last season. The moment general manager Ken Williams said the deal was complete, Manuel began to wonder whether his clubhouse was about to be turned upside down.

''I had heard things. People said, 'Oh, you don't want him,''' Manuel recalled. "But you know what? He was fine. He was great to have around. Albert Belle? Same thing. He never gave me a bit of trouble.''

Thomas has given Manuel plenty of trouble through the years, including their infamous two-hour shouting match in spring training two years ago, when Thomas produced a doctor's note excusing him from strenuous exercises because of a right-foot surgery the previous September. The meeting, which included Manuel stressing to Thomas the importance of being more involved with his young teammates as a veteran leader, ended with smiles and handshakes.

''I have no problem with Jerry Manuel,'' Thomas says today. ''He's always been honest. I can appreciate that.''

Manuel, 48, also is positive, a trait that definitely appeals to his players.

''He might be a little more serious in dealing with certain situations than he was when he started [in 1998], but otherwise I'd say he's the same guy,'' closer Keith Foulke said. ''Players don't need to be yelled at or shown up in front of others. He's been upset with us as a group, but we've never seen him get on someone in public, and that's the way it should be. We're major-leaguers, and he treats us that way.''

Jerry Reinsdorf appreciates Manuel's honesty, especially when the Sox' chairman had concerns about the pitching staff's rising ERA in the Cactus League this spring. It's a trust that has strengthened through the years.

''Jerry told me not to worry about our pitching in spring training, so I'm not going to,'' Reinsdorf said Friday. ''If he was worried, he'd have told me.''

Manuel's stoic presence in the dugout concerns fans. Critics have asked: Is he sleeping with his eyes wide-open?

He is not, Manuel says.

He's thinking.

''But there's an inner man in me that comes out once in a while,'' he said of head-bobbing arguments with umpires that amuse him when he watches them on tape. ''I just never know when.''

Manuel has shown a sly sense of humor through the years.

*On Ray Durham straining a leg muscle: ''We have to be careful with Ray. He has some pretty important legs, maybe the most important in Chicago--besides my wife's.''

*On former Sox outfielder Jeff Abbott stunning himself on defense: ''He banged his head against the wall. The wall is OK.''

*On signing an extension through 2004 for a salary in the range of $1 million a year: ''I didn't get A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] money. I tried for it, though.''

Proud of his African-American roots, Manuel was the only honoree among 16 to show up at the first Negro Leagues Legacy Awards dinner two years ago in Kansas City, Mo. Missing were 12 players, one other manager and two general managers. Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson sent videotaped messages.

When Manuel was Manager of the Year in 2000 after winning the American League Central, he credited advice from San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker, who also is an African American who grew up in Sacramento, Calif.

''He was instrumental in my growth as a manager,'' Manuel said. ''My first year, when I got this job, he was my first call. He simplified everything by saying, 'Be yourself. You can do it and never waver with your confidence.'''

Being yourself, however, means being different at home during the season.

''My wife [Renette] says, 'You're never here when you're here,' and I say, 'No, I'm here. I'm home,''' Manuel said. ''But I know what she means. You can't do what I do and not keep thinking about it.''

Manuel laughed.

''I try to make up for it in the offseason,'' he said.

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