Ben Shpigel, of The New York Times, has an article, “Manuel’s Managing Style Has a Playful Phrase Book,” in which Shpigel colorfully describes how Jerry Manuel blends street slang into his speech to try to connect with young players, which his players seem to appreciate.
“It’s not gangster, it’s gangsta,” he said, laughing. “Get it right.”
(Manuel has been seen laughing, in the past few days, more than Randolph, throughout his entire managerial reign. I find Manuel’s relaxed demeanor, and sense of humor, refreshing.)
In the world of Manuel, the Mets’ interim manager, gangsta is considered the ultimate compliment, a term of respect and admiration. Just as easily, he said, he could have used the word gladiator to get his message across. But aside from gangsta sounding cooler — “no doubt,” he said — the 54-year-old Manuel said he could communicate better with players, who in some cases are nearly 30 years younger, by occasionally mixing street slang into his daily interactions.
“I think it’s great how Jerry relates to us,” said Brian Schneider, who has known Manuel for more than a decade, since they were in what was then the Montreal Expos’ organization. “That’s his way, that’s his style. That’s why I call him Homey.”
Marlon Anderson added: “That’s just a Jerry thing. When he says it to you, you smile. Everyone wants to be gangsta.”
(Some coaches, in any sport, are unsuccessful, because they cannot relate to their players, and eventually, are tuned out by their players. It’s great that Manuel plays around with his players, who go right back at him.)
The ascent of Manuel from bench coach has thrust him into a spotlight where, particularly in New York, his choice of language is going to be analyzed, and some of his more colorful phrases will be questioned. He provides a relief from his predecessor, Willie Randolph, who often acted restrained and defensive in interview sessions with reporters, but also creates this juxtaposition:
How is it that a man whose intellectual curiosity rivals that of any manager in baseball, whose reading list leans toward peaceful men like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., could playfully talk about taking a blade to José Reyes the next time he acts up, as he did during the series in Anaheim?
“What I’m trying to say is that you’re epitomizing the best player that you can be,” said Manuel, “When you do things that are in that vein and in that sense, that helps the game, to win the game, and you’re giving everything you can that’s within your limitations — that’s gangsta. That’s how I use it. I know that’s the lingo of this generation.”
He said he could not remember the origin of the term, but he was quoted in 1999 as rooting for the Knicks in the N.B.A. finals because “they’ve got gangster in them, and I like gangster.” For motivational ideas, he looks toward his four children — two sons, two daughters — whose ages range from the early 20s to the early 30s. Although Manuel said he enjoyed older rhythm and blues and jazz, he likes adding a little hip-hop flavor to the clubhouse — and to his home, as well. Manuel said he had called his children, or something that they had done, gangsta, too.
“A good report card,” Manuel said. “Now, that’s gangsta.”
He sprinkles his speech with other phrases too, like “play wit it,” referring to when his players are liberated and relaxed, not thinking about what to do with the baseball, and “holla.” As in, he expects to have disagreements with his players during the season, but he will treat them in a respectful manner so they can “as men, still come holla at each other and do our thing.”
One particular instance came Tuesday night, in the first inning of the Mets’ game against the Angels. Manuel removed Reyes for precautionary reasons after Reyes felt tightness in his hamstring. Reyes pouted, throwing his helmet and storming into the dugout, and the next day Manuel, when discussing his wishes to rest his key players more, said: “Last night, Reyes — she acted up. I brought her home with me. She had a day off.”
Clarifying those comments Friday afternoon in the visiting manager’s office in Coors Field, Manuel said: “I was just messing with him. That wasn’t anything. He kind of reacted in a manner that wasn’t — and this is no issue with gender — he just acted in a manner that wasn’t professional behavior. Not that he didn’t want to play. It’s like, ‘Come on, now, you should know better.’ ”
Reyes reacted positively — he apologized after chatting with Manuel in the clubhouse — and scored the tying run in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 5-4 victory in 10 innings Wednesday night.
“The way we came back, the focus throughout the entire game, the energy on the bench with guys talking to one another — it was just a great feeling to see that,” Manuel said. “That was a gangsta evening. Definitely.”
(Manuel’s personality has been a burst of energy for the team, which looks a lot more relaxed, the media, who are joking with him, and vice versa, and the fan base, which seems intrigued by him.)