LOXAHACHEE, Fla.—Jerry Manuel got the telephone call from White Sox General Manager Ron Schueler on a Monday in November. He was asked if he wanted to be considered for the team's managerial opening, with the option to interview that Thursday or Friday.
Manuel had been preparing a lifetime for this chance, but he nevertheless put it off until Friday. He wanted time to fully prepare.
"Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were days of fasting and prayer," Manuel said last week.
He appeared truly to be a man at peace during a three-hour conversation in the family room of his comfortable house, at times actually curling up on his couch.
At the Dec. 4 news conference to announce Manuel's hiring as the White Sox's 36th manager, Schueler recalled that "the room lit up" when Manuel walked into his hotel suite for the initial interview. Manuel believes that first impression was the result of answered prayers.
"It is my belief that was spiritual," Manuel said. "When I went in there, I had a plan. God gave me a plan."
Manuel, 43, a career .150 hitter in the major leagues who spent the last seven years as a coach for Felipe Alou with the Montreal Expos and Jim Leyland with the Florida Marlins, returns to the only organization ever to give him a pink slip. He was fired from a scouting job in the winter of 1985-86 by then-Sox GM Ken Harrelson.
Manuel wanted this job in the worst way. But he didn't want it just for the usual reasons of ambition, money or ego. He wanted it because he believes he has been prepared thoroughly to succeed. And by winning in a market as large as Chicago's, with a franchise that hasn't been to a World Series since 1959, he plans to be a positive role model for his fellow Christians and African-Americans.
There is both order and serenity in the two-story house on a sandy road on the western outskirts of West Palm Beach, Fla., where the Manuels have lived for a decade. It is decorated with antiques and collectibles, with the most prominent baseball item a poster commemorating the old Negro leagues. There are computers for the children to do their schoolwork and a swimming pool and two basketball goals outside among the tall pines. The only disturbance is a telephone that seems perpetually ringing.
Yet Renette Manuel confidently declares the couple officially in the market for a home in Chicago. In doing this, she would seem to overlook the average shelf life of recent Sox managers Jim Fregosi, Jeff Torborg, Gene Lamont and Terry Bevington. She believes it will be different for her husband.
Both Manuels are interested to hear about DuPage County, yet Renette has her heart set on something closer to Comiskey Park. She hasn't yet explored farther south than 35th Street, but a recent newspaper article about the revitalization of Kenwood intrigued her.
"We came here because of a job," she said. "Neither of us had family here. There has been a lot of growth in our family here, but the season here has ended. It's time to move on. I look forward with great anticipation to making the move to Chicago."
She expects to make a difference in the lives of many people she has yet to meet.
"The word of God says God has a plan for you," Renette said. "I know we had to be qualified for this, I know (Jerry) had to be good at what he does. But there's a responsibility there. We are ready for that responsibility."
More than any other word, that's the one that pops up the most during a long conversation with Jerry Manuel. He uses it to describe his marriage, his religion and his management philosophies.
In professional sports, where backup players sometimes can earn more than their bosses, many coaches and managers tiptoe around the tough stuff. But Manuel wants it to be known upfront that he will place demands on all of his players, including batting champ Frank Thomas and Albert Belle.
"Commitment means changes, and sometimes change is uncomfortable," Manuel said. "If you're going to be committed to winning a world championship, you have to be willing to change, because (the current White Sox players) haven't won one."