by Jack McCaffery of the Daily Times

Philadelphia -

In the very room, behind the very lectern, into the very microphone that he not so long ago asked for the opportunity to manage the Phillies, Charlie Manuel proved Sunday night that he no longer can be trusted with the duty.

His Phillies had just wasted a three-run lead and lost a game and a series to the Atlanta Braves, and Manuel was at his usual loss for baseball reason. Instead, he evoked all the insight of a checkout clerk pointing at a malfunctioning cash register, unable and unwilling to make any of the difficult calculations on his own.

Why did he pull Robinson Tejeda out of the game while the rookie was pitching a three-hit shutout? It was the pitch count's fault.

Why was Bobby Abreu caught trying to steal second in the eighth inning of a tie game, with power hitters Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard lineup on the runway? Manuel told Abreu in spring training that he would be on his own every time he was on the basepaths - apparently even in an instance when he should have been facing a signaled roadblock.

What was Manuel's plan for pulling the Phillies out of a slide that had caused them to lose every series since the false dawn of a 12-1 homestand? To remind them that there is plenty of baseball to play - information they could have learned from giveaway refrigerator-magnet schedules.

It never ends. If Larry Bowa managed the Phillies from the edge of madness, collecting one fresh facial wrinkle per inning, Manuel manages them from the edge of the parking lot, blissfully unaware of all on-field goings on. He does not motivate. He does not strategize. He does nothing to make the Phillies a better baseball team, and even less to make them a more popular one.

If another 39,000 customers hadn't wasted another night of misplaced passion in a team of players and a manager unwilling to return the favor, the inability of Manuel to manage an important second-half-of-the-season ballgame would have made for a fine comedy. But those people deserve a manager who knows when to order a bunt, when to forbid a steal, and when to allow a young pitcher to continue to pitch at least until he surrenders Run No. 1. So the only thing funny is why it is taking Ed Wade so long to acknowledge something as obvious and misplaced as the parking lot advertising board that blocks the skyline view from Citizens Bank Park: Charlie Manuel can't manage.

So Charlie Manuel shouldn't manage, not any more, not with the Phillies still close enough to the wild card race to yet make this season a worthwhile endeavor.

While the 4-3 loss to the Braves did provide a convenient carrying case for all of Manuel's professional shortcomings, his inability to manage has been on display from an Opening Day lineup that did not include Utley, even with the general manager standing just outside the dugout before the game, his embarrassed face turning a deeper crimson with every fresh wave of reporters.

Pick a unit of measure; any unit of measure for a baseball manager, and Manuel has come up short.

Strategy? Try the eighth inning of a game in Oakland, the Phillies trailing by one. After Mike Lieberthal reached first to lead off, Manuel sacrificed him to second. Besides making the basic mistake of essentially playing for a tie on the road, all that did was give the A's a free out. Chances are it still would have required two hits to deliver Lieberthal, who is about as speedy as a paid-by-the-hour handyman. Worse, when Jimmy Rollins and Kenny Lofton were retired, it left All-Star Bobby Abreu stranded in the on-deck circle.

Clubhouse management? How could Manuel have ignored either the physical trouble and-or professional disintegration of Jim Thome for so long? Was it because he owed Thome his very presents in Philadelphia, and thus in the major leagues, and thus this last chance to manage another big-league team?

Motivation? Have Manuel's players shown any excess on-field passion, or are they too willing to avoid contact with outfield walls?

Personnel management? How could Manuel have campaigned for not activating Ryan Howard for a trip to Seattle and Oakland for games with designated hitters?

Control of a pitching staff? Manuel is married to the pitch count, so much so that he will remove a young starter in mid-shutout of a fear that something drastic will occur.

There is time for the Phillies to salvage something of this season. Their talent - still - is not as bad as their record. But they know, they have to know, that their manager is giving them no help. Who would? Jim Leyland, who remains unemployed. Dallas Green or John Vukovich, both just an office intercom buzz away. Anyone in the A-to-L section of the Manhattan white pages. Larry Brown.

Since the Phillies, give or take a quick burst of success, are about as they were under Bowa - pretty good, not great, chronically allergic to too much success - there is probable cause that is the players, not the managers, who are prone to mediocrity. Better still, that gravitational pull toward ordinary baseball is likely the result of the organization's inability to acknowledge that its assembled nucleus of players is as flawed as it is overpaid.

None of that, though, will mask the reality that Charlie Manuel is overmatched. And the Phillies will manage nothing until he is replaced.