Since taking over for Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16, Ryne Sandberg has managed the Phillies to an 18-16 record. (AP)
Updated 2:32 p.m.
In what seemed like a foregone conclusion, the Phillies removed the interim tag in front of Ryne Sandberg’s title and named him the full-time manager of the club, Sunday afternoon, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announced.
The deal is for three years with an option for a fourth season in 2017.
Sandberg becomes the 52nd manager of the Phillies and officially replaces Charlie Manuel, the club’s all-time leader in wins, games, seasons and is one of two men to ever win the World Series as manager of the Phillies.
Sandberg took over as manager on Aug. 16, when Manuel was fired, and has an 18-16 record in his first big-league managerial job. Amaro said the organization spent the last month studying if Sandberg was the man to lead the team.
“I think we had an inkling from his body of work and the work he did for us,” Amaro said during a press conference on Sunday morning. “We had to take into account a lot of the things that Ryne had done, not just with our organization, but when he was with the Cubs and his playing experience. It was very, very clear to me, right from the get go that the way he handled the transition during a very, very difficult period and having to take over for an icon of sorts in our Phillies history in Charlie, it was very, very difficult circumstances and I think he handled it very, very well. I think he handled the players well, the clubhouse very well. We kind of gave him free reign of what he needed to do and I really liked the instincts of how he handled things. As far as how early in the process, not until pretty recently did we decide that this was direction we wanted to go.”
After consulting with players and the club’s brass, Amaro made the decision.
“The deciding factor was that we believe this is the right man for this job,” Amaro added.
Sandberg, of course, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 and is regarded as one of the greatest second basemen to play in the majors. He spent all but 13 games of his 16-year career with the Chicago Cubs and remains a legendary figure amongst Chicago sports fans. During his playing career, Sandberg made it to the postseason just twice and never got to the World Series. After his election to the Hall of Fame, Sandberg still wanted to experience a World Series first hand and set out to return to the big leagues as a manager or coach.
Sandberg got a chance to manage in the Cubs’ organization where he spent four seasons working his way up from Single A to Triple A. But when Lou Piniella stepped down and the Cubs had a managerial opening, Sandberg was passed over in favor of Mike Quade.
Realizing he was never going to get back to the big leagues with the Cubs, Sandberg was hired to manage the Phillies’ Triple-A club in Lehigh Valley, the organization that selected him out of Spokane, Wash. in the 20th round in 1978.
Still, the goal remained to get back to the big leagues and when Quade was fired by the Cubs after the 2011 season, Sandberg seemed like the favorite to land the job. However, new Cubs’ president Theo Epstein didn’t even grant Sandberg an interview and hired Dale Sveum to manage the team.
Undeterred, Sandberg returned to Lehigh Valley for the 2012 season and during the winter before the 2013 season, he was named as the third-base coach for Manuel’s coaching staff. When he was named the interim manager in August, Sandberg held out hope that he would finally land that elusive managerial job.
“I had a good feeling. I am a positive guy and I like to do my work and let my work speak for itself,” Sandberg said. “But you never know in baseball. I had a good feeling about what was going on here, and things felt good here. It felt good in the clubhouse. It felt good in the dugout. And I think improved performance on the field was the biggest gratifying thing, and also with the players having a chance to gain experience and improve, all those things felt good.”
When Sandberg took over the Phillies there was a new focus on preparation. A concrete reporting time was instituted for the players and a focus on pregame drills and workouts also was rejuvenated. There were little changes, too. For instance, the entire team was required to be on the field and in front of the dugout before the game.
Sandberg has also spoken with veterans like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee about the players taking a firm leadership and mentoring role with the club. So far, all three players have increased their offensive production this season since Sandberg took over.
“I think communication is one of my strengths, which is ironic, because as a player I wasn't strong at all at communicating. I was focused on catching the ball and hitting it and it kind of stopped there,” Sandberg said.
The six seasons back in the minors after a Hall-of-Fame playing career helped Sandberg not only get to know some of the younger players with the Phillies, but also taught him a lot of lessons in communication and coaching that he might not have received if he had just jumped into a big-league job.
“I don't know of too many Hall of Famers who went to the minor leagues for six years and worked their way up,” Sandberg said. “I thought it was necessary. It was also the only job that was offered, and that had something to do with it. As it turns out, it was the right path. [My wife] Margaret and I had a blast doing it, riding the buses, staying in the motels, being with 18- and 19-year-olds who were just out of high school or college and teaching them how to be professionals. So that has gone a long way with what I do today.”
The rapport with the players — even those Sandberg did not manage in the minors — was evident immediately. When Amaro went into the clubhouse on Sunday morning to announce that Sandberg would stay on as the Phillies manager, the players exploded with cheers and shouts, including the manager’s catch phrase, “I see ya!”
“It was nice. I enjoy the ballplayers. I enjoy my players. I ask a lot of them and we work together. That goes a long way,” Sandberg said. “I continue to do that. I want them to be the best players they can be and I want us to be the best team we can be.
“For me, it is about respecting the game, having a respect for the game — play for the name on the front of the uniform, not the back and be prepared. So preparation is a big thing that I stress, and hard work in practice, and I ask the players to go out and enjoy the game out there prepared."