Patient Sandberg deserves this chance
No manager has been more prepared for his first job than Ryne Sandberg, who has paid every price, and then some. Along the way, as he kept getting passed over, he could have gotten bitter. Instead, he just got more resolute.
Sandberg took over as the interim manager of the Phillies on Friday after a long journey. Literally. To manage six years in the Minor Leagues, including two at Class A ball, says Sandberg had a burning desire to manage in the Majors.
The Cubs passed Sandberg over for Mike Quade one time, Dale Sveum another. That's no real knock on the Cubs. Sandberg interviewed for other jobs through the years and didn't get those, either. When the Phils began considering him for their Triple-A Lehigh Valley job three years ago, they were blown away.
Former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who was put in charge of vetting Sandberg, became more and more impressed as he went through the process. He said the interview was solid, the recommendations off the chart. When he was done, Gillick's only question was why no one had given Sandberg a chance.
One reason might be Sandberg's low-key approach. He's not a screamer, not an especially outgoing sort. As Sandberg showed at Friday's introductory news conference in Philadelphia, he's steady, not flashy.
On the other hand, the young players who worked with Sandberg rave about his attention to detail and his patience. For instance, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, who was a college shortstop and won a Gold Glove Award last year, gives Sandberg credit for helping him learn to play the other side of the infield.
One of Sandberg's challenges has been convincing baseball people that he had a passion to manage. He'd played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues, retiring in 1997 and being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. To those on the outside, he seemed to be living the good life.
|Name||HOF induction||Year hired as manager|
|Ted Williams||1966 (Red Sox)||1969 (Senators)|
|Luke Appling||1964 (White Sox)||1967 (A's)|
|Ryne Sandberg||2005 (Cubs)||2013 (Phillies)|
Sandberg had been away from the game for a decade when he began to express an interest in managing. To say teams were skeptical about whether he'd stick with it would be an understatement.
Sandberg showed the Cubs right off that he was willing to go straight from the ground floor by accepting a job managing Class A Peoria. He was there for two years before moving to Double-A Tennessee for a year and then to Triple-A Iowa.
When the Cubs passed Sandberg over for Sveum in December 2011, he took the Triple-A job with the Phils. Again, there were no guarantees. Looking back on it, he's proud of how he did it.
"Starting from the bottom and working up," Sandberg said on Friday. "I did that as a player. There was a lot to be learned."
Maybe Sandberg didn't know how much he'd like it, and maybe he got hooked. After spending most of his adult life in baseball, after playing at the highest of levels for so long, maybe he found he had something to offer young players dealing with failure and insecurities. Maybe he missed the competition.
"Actually, I love it," Sandberg said. "Had some success at it."
Sandberg had plenty of success. He was named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America in 2011 and the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2010. Sandberg led Double-A Tennessee to the Southern League championship game in 2009.
The 53-year-old said the most important lesson he has learned is that communication is vital, both on an individual basis and as a manager speaking to his team. The Phillies gave him the job replacing Charlie Manuel on Friday, and they said the position would be reevaluated after the season.
So Sandberg is basically auditioning during these final 42 games, beginning Friday against the Dodgers. He said his immediate goal will be to convince his veteran players that every game still counts even with the Phils out of contention. And, he said, to let the younger players have a chance to grow and improve.
Sandberg said he'd like to force the action as a manager, to challenge the defense and make things happen. To do all of this while trying to prove he deserves to be back next season will be a challenge.
Sandberg long ago proved he had the right touch with young guys. Now he'll see how he does in keeping veteran players interested and motivated for these final six weeks. Sandberg has passed every other test these past seven seasons, so there's no reason to think he won't pass this one, too.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.