I might’ve scribbled something the other day about the Duaner Sanchez-for-Jae Seo deal being the steal of the year. Such a claim does a disservice to the Reds’ acquisition of Bronson Arroyo (above) for the price of Wlly Mo Pena, a lopsided deal that has meant the world to Cincinnati this year (if not Southern Ohio lovers of Stone Temple Pilots covers). Arroyo’s performance last night against the Mets, coupled with Philadelphia’s 4-2 defeat of Randy Johnson had the Phillies gaining ground in the NL East for a change.

Rather than focus on that sliver of good news, however, the Daily News’ Rich Hoffman uses Larry Bowa’s return to Philadelphia as an worthy excuse to question whether or not the Phillies annual Phailures can be blamed on either of the last two managers.

The paint-by-numbers aficionados in the crowd would use the occasion of Bowa’s return to take a few more whacks at the Phillies’ current prey, Charlie Manuel. It is all as predictable as it is tired.

Here are the facts, abbreviated and unvarnished:

Bowa had 4 years here, didn’t win, managed to get on many-to-most of the players’ nerves, and was fired. Every manager has a lifespan and his was up – no shame in that. They didn’t lose because of Bowa but because of the players.

Manuel was brought in to soothe those nerves. He is more hunch player than tactician but the team made a fine stretch run under Manuel’s easy hand last summer, won two more games than Bowa’s customary 86, and still fell short on the last day of the season. This year, with the worst starting pitching in the league, the Phils have dug a huge June hole. They are where they are not because of Manuel but because of the players.

That’s it. The rest is meaningless.

It’s kind of like when Bowa says, one minute, “We did the best we could, especially that last year [2004]. We had all kinds of injuries, but people don’t want to talk about it. When you don’t have your closer for 70 games, three of your five starters are on the disabled list, [Pat] Burrell went on the DL, [Placido] Polanco on the DL, and we were in the thing right till the end.”

And then, talking about the Yankees in the next minute, Bowa said, “It doesn’t matter who’s hurt or who’s out, you’re expected to win. You’re expected to play in October. They don’t want to hear, ‘This guy was out.’ They don’t do that.”

Then, an amendment: “But I don’t know if they would stick by their words if Mariano Rivera was shut down for the season. There’s always one or two guys you can’t lose … and [Billy] Wagner was one of those guys for me.”

All of which, taken together, means … nothing. It is about the players in general and the pitching in particular. The manager is a conversation piece, for the most part. Some are great, true enough, and some are lousy, yes, but most managers are merely tethered to the abilities of their teams – as Larry Bowa was and Charlie Manuel is.