As Cubs come to town, Ryne Sandberg reflects

As Cubs come to town, Ryne Sandberg reflects
August 5, 2013, 11:00 am
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Ryne Sandberg was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round in 1978, but traded him to the Cubs with Larry Bowa for Ivan de Jesus in 1982. (USA Today Images)

Ryne Sandberg sold his condominium in Chicago this spring.

“We weren’t using it,” he said with a laugh. “We had it for 10 years, but were only getting there about one week a year.”

Had things worked out the way Sandberg had hoped when he got back into baseball full-time in 2007, he and his wife Margaret might be living in that condo now. But Sandberg never became manager of the Chicago Cubs. Heck, he never even landed a job on the team’s big-league coaching staff. He has worked in Pennsylvania the last three years. No need for a residence in Chicago.

The story has been often told how Sandberg, whose 16-year playing career with the Cubs earned him 10 all-star appearances and enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, parted with the franchise that once retired his No. 23 after he was not hired as the club’s manager following the 2010 season.

There’s a little room for interpretation here. Sandberg says there was a period of time -- he used the word “limbo” -- after the Cubs hired Mike Quade to manage for the 2011 season when he didn’t have a job. He didn’t get the big-league manager’s job. He said he was told by club officials that he wouldn’t be on Quade’s coaching staff. (That would have been acceptable to Sandberg because after four seasons managing in the Cubs’ minor-league system, including 2010 when he was the Triple A Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year, he just wanted to be back in the majors.) People employed by the Cubs at the time say there was no limbo period, that Sandberg would have had a job in the organization for 2011 once things got sorted out.

One thing is clear: In the time between the Cubs’ passing on Sandberg in the fall of 2010 and their handing out organizational assignments for the next season, the Phillies became aware that he was a free agent of sorts, called him, asked if he’d be interested in interviewing for their Triple A managerial job and hired him for the post.

Sandberg said goodbye to the Cubs and hello again to the Phillies. He was, of course, drafted and developed as a player by the Phillies before being traded to the Cubs after the 1981 season.

For Sandberg, 53, the reunion with the Phillies has been, in his words, “a blessing because I wasn’t going to have my chance to work my way back to the big leagues with the Cubs.” After two successful seasons managing at Triple A Lehigh Valley -– he was Baseball America’s minor-league manager of the year in 2011 –- he is back in the big leagues as Phillies’ third base coach. It’s no secret he will be a top candidate to become the team’s manager if the Phils make a change after this season. Charlie Manuel, in his ninth season as skipper, is in the final year of his contract.

“If you stay in baseball long enough, everything seems to come full circle,” Sandberg said recently. “Coming to the Phillies has been a good fresh start. There are more familiar faces from my minor-league days with the Phillies than there were after the change [in ownership and management] with the Cubs.

“For me, the camaraderie and the people side of the game is a big part of the game that I enjoy. I enjoy being around people I know and I’m comfortable with and there are all new people over there.

“I’ve been very comfortable in a Phillies uniform the last three years. I’ve always been a loyal guy, a guy who is focused on what he’s doing now. And that’s my mentality and that’s where it is now –- I’m focused on the Phillies.”

Cubs memories
From his playing days to his time as a guest spring-training instructor to four years as a minor-league manager, Sandberg wore a Cubs uniform for 28 years.

He has not seen that uniform up close in almost three seasons.

That changes Tuesday night when the Cubs come to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game series against the Phillies.

Sandberg said it was difficult to anticipate what he’d feel when he saw that old uniform.

“I feel one of the only connections I have is some of the players with the major-league club, players I managed in the minors,” he said. “Other than that, I don’t know the people over there.”

That’s not to say Sandberg doesn’t have wonderful memories of his time with the Cubs.

“Great memories,” he said. “Wrigley Field. The fans. The lights going up. I saw everything change in 1984 with the winning season. I saw the popularity of the Cubs go to a whole new level that year.

“I still remember the game in late August, we looked across the street and there were two guys on the roof just standing watching the game because they couldn’t get tickets, which was a first for Wrigley Field in a long time. The last two months every seat was sold.

“I remember seeing those two guys on the roof and thinking, ‘Wow, look at that.’ The next homestand there were 10 people and a barbecue and folding chairs. To see what it is now is amazing. I was part of that. I saw the Cubs become America’s team with WGN and day-games. It was the only game on.

“Day baseball was a pretty good friend of mine.”

A new chapter
In media reports at the time, Sandberg admitted to being disappointed at not getting the Cubs’ manager’s job in the fall of 2010.

Cubs officials had been impressed with the work of Quade, who was the interim manager after Lou Piniella resigned in 2010. The Cubs went 24-13 under Quade.

Sandberg was asked recently whether it hurt not getting a chance to lead the club that plays in the ballpark where his retired number hangs.

“No,” he said. “I just wasn’t their guy.”

But a moment later, he said this:

“Initially it looked like I might have been working toward that, managing for them and doing it up from Triple A and having success in the minor leagues, but I’ve been around baseball long enough to know there’s no guarantees in this game. It’s all about who’s comfortable with who and relationships and all that. I understand that. So if there was any hurt at all it didn’t last very long. To be able to come to the Phillies when I did and continue to strive to reach a goal of getting back to the major-leagues –- I’ve done that with the Phillies and I’m very gratified by that.”

So there was probably a little hurt not getting the Cubs’ job.

It seems only natural.

But Sandberg seems over it now.

He’s enjoying the next chapter of his baseball life.

“There’s no bitterness,” he said. “I have great memories of being a Cub and I’m happy building new ones with the Phillies.”

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