Ryne Sandberg was named the Phillies' 52nd manager on Sunday. (USA Today Images)
The similarities are quite interesting.
Mike Schmidt and Ryne Sandberg were both Hall of Fame players.
Both retired and eventually decided they wanted to get back into the game. Both set managing in the major leagues as the ultimate goal.
Both were given managerial jobs in the minors with the organizations for which they had starred.
At the time, the people in charge of those organizations sniffed with skepticism.This won’t last long. Hall of Famers and long bus rides don’t mix well. Sore arms from throwing batting practice to a bunch of kids who have no chance of making it. Huh, that managerial bug will die like a warning-track fly ball.
The people in charge of the Phillies were right. Schmidt was always a bright-lights kind of guy. Truth be told, he wanted to manage in the big leagues immediately. One season managing in the Florida State League cured his managerial itch.
Sandberg? Now, that’s a different story. He’s a different cat than Schmidt. When Sandberg expressed interest to Cubs officials about becoming a minor-league manager with the goal of one day getting back to the big leagues, they said sure, go ride buses in the Midwest League and you’ll be back enjoying the sunshine in Scottsdale before you know it.
That was before the 2007 season.
Sandberg liked what he was doing so much – and he showed so much promise at it – that he came back for more bus rides and sore arms the next year.
The next year, he received a promotion to Double A, and the next year another one to Triple A. There was no sticking Sandberg’s managerial itch in a corner. It was sincere. He loved it and was going to ride it back to the big leagues, ride it back to the dugout in Wrigley Field.
Cubs fans dreamed of Ryno leading their team to the World Series title that has eluded them for more than 100 years. But, of course, nothing is that simple. Sandberg was passed over for the Cubs’ job after the 2010 season. There have been rumblings that his ambition didn’t sit well with the people who ran baseball ops for the Cubs at the time. Other rumblings suggested that the Cubs didn’t want to get into a position where they might have to one day fire a club icon, a man whose retired No. 23 hangs on the right-field flag pole. In the end, Sandberg was passed over for Mike Quade, who had become attractive because he did an excellent job as the interim skipper after Lou Piniella stepped down.
Sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it?
On Sunday morning, the Phillies made it official. Sandberg, who had become interim manager when Charlie Manuel was let go on Aug. 16, was given a three-year contract and became the team’s full-time manager (see story). Phillies management is to be applauded for not going through the dog and pony show of a manager search and a series of interviews. Sandberg left the Cubs to become the Phillies’ Triple A manager in 2011. Club officials got a good two-year look at him as a manager and another month-plus this season. He has great – not good, great – credentials as a baseball man. He has done some good things, mostly getting veterans and youngsters to respond positively, in his short time at the Phillies’ helm. Don’t you want to see more? Aren’t you curious to see where his quiet public demeanor and firm behind-the-scenes hand can take this team? Sure you are.
Sandberg has impressed in his five weeks on the job. The Phils entered their final home game Sunday with an 18-16 record under him. He has stood up to veterans who want to do it their way and nurtured younger players to make sure they are raised as big-leaguers doing it his way. And what is that way? Work hard, be accountable, prepare, prepare, prepare, play the game the right way. Sandberg actually began making an impact back in April when he became third base coach. He wanted to conduct defensive fundamental work with the club several times a homestand. Manuel was all for it. In fact, Manuel was a big supporter of the man who would succeed him.
This extra work, this commitment to work ethic, is what helped make Sandberg a Hall of Fame second baseman. Remember, he played the other side of the infield as a youngster in the Phillies’ system. He made himself a second baseman in the majors. That’s not easy. Sandberg will demand that same commitment from his players, and he’ll back it up with his own tireless work ethic.
If you want a little peek at Sandberg’s character, go read his Hall of Fame induction speech from 2005. (You can skip the last line.) Throughout the speech, he mentions respecting the game and playing it the right way. He mentions a guy named Dallas Green, who brought him from Philadelphia to Chicago, and how he never wanted to let Green down. All these years later, Green was influential in bringing Sandberg back to the Phillies, his original professional team.
It’s funny how things work in this game. All Ryne Sandberg wanted when he got back into the game was to manage his beloved Cubs. Now he has come full circle with a chance to manage the Phillies. He paid the price, rode the buses, lived through the sore arms, and now he gets to lead a major league team. It won’t be easy. The Phils have holes. They are old in spots, young in spots and flawed in spots. But Ryne Sandberg is most definitely ready for the challenge.
Oh, yeah, and the end of that Hall of Fame speech? It says, “Go Cubs.”
Not anymore. Ryne Sandberg is the Phillies’ 52nd manager.