By Mary Cunningham
Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Eagles great Brian Dawkins (above) were inducted into the Philly Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night as part of the 13th induction class at the Hilton on City Line Avenue.
“There are actually more people here tonight than I thought were going to be here,” Manuel said of the full house. “I was totally surprised (to be nominated). There are a lot of great people involved in sports in Philadelphia — players and coaches. I used to keep up with a lot of people who are in the Hall of Fame here, so it’s quite an honor.”
Other inductees in attendance included Jimmy Watson, a defenseman on the Flyers’ Stanley Cup teams in 1974 and ’75; Marilyn Stephens, a Temple basketball star in the 1980s; Jeff Chandler, a former bantamweight world champion boxer; Dick “Hoops” Weiss, a renowned college basketball reporter; and Vonnie Gros, a collegiate field hockey legend.
Radio host Mike Missanelli accepted the honor on behalf of his late mentor, Steve Fredericks. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, considered one of the greatest teams in NBA history, was also inducted and was represented by Wali Jones.
Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, was there in support of Dawkins, along with Dawkins’ former teammates Jon Runyan and Quintin Mikell. Other well-known sports figures in the ballroom were Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright and former Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey.
Manuel, the second-to-last speaker of the night, regaled the crowd with tales of his upbringing in West Virginia, his playing days and his managerial career. It was a far cry from his start in Philadelphia, when most Phillies fans preferred the team hire Jim Leyland to replace Larry Bowa in the dugout.
“When I first got here, I definitely knew that I wasn’t popular,” Manuel said. “I told them, ‘Once you get to know me and we start winning, you’ll like me.'”
And that was certainly the case. In 2007, Manuel’s third season, he guided the Phillies to a division championship — the first of five in a row — and their first playoff appearance in 14 years. The next season they won the World Series, which remains the city’s only major professional championship since 1983.
Manuel gave credit to the fans for their support during those years.
“The great setting that we had at the ballpark with our fans, they were definitely our 10th man,” he said. “They created a lot of energy for us. Everybody associated with Phillie baseball had something to do with (our success).”
Manuel lived in Haddonfield until being fired as Phillies manager in 2013. He now resides in Florida, but is often back in the area since he is still an adviser with the team.
“I spend more time here than people probably realize,” he said. “I still can’t believe (how nicely the fans treat me). I don’t even know how to act. Big people, little people, big women, little women, they all come up to me and they want to hug me. They act like they know me and it’s unreal.”