Ryne Sandberg will manage the remaining 42 games of the Phillies' 2013 season on an interim basis. (USA Today Images)
More than 30 years ago Ryne Sandberg made his debut with the Phillies as a shortstop. Little did the Phillies know back then that their 20th round pick in the 1978 draft would go on to be a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Cubs.
When Sandberg makes his debut as a big-league manager on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies, he will have some very big shoes to fill.
In taking over for Charlie Manuel on an interim basis, Sandberg will not only be trying to show his mettle as a big leaguer all over again, but also will be replacing the greatest winning manager in the team’s 130-year history.
“For me, I recognize this as Charlie Manuel Day,” Sandberg said. “What he has meant to the Phillies organization, what he’s meant to the fans with the championships and the World Series, he’s tops in the organization for what he did here.
“He left a big footprint here in Philadelphia.”
Manuel left a big-time legacy with the Phillies by becoming just the second manager in team history to win the World Series and is just one of three managers in the major leagues to win five straight division titles.
But what Manuel leaves for Sandberg is a team with many holes and lots of injuries. Sandberg takes over a team with a mired in a 4-19 slump and sinking in the NL East. At 53-67, the Phillies are 20 1/2 games behind the front-running Braves and are in fourth place, just seven games ahead of the Marlins.
Sandberg’s first order of business will be to find a way to reinvigorate the ball club over the final 42 games of the season.
Though he is in his first season as a coach for the Phillies, Sandberg hasn’t been too impressed with the way the Phillies have played this season.
“I just think there needs to be a different energy level,” Sandberg said. “The guys have been very good with the coaches with how they prepare for the game. The guys do what they have to do in order to play every day. But you never know what they’re thinking. I think they need to be reminded and I think there has been signs of lackadaisical play. Getting the players re-interested in these games and reminding them that these are important games will be part of the order.”
Sandberg had success in getting many of the Phillies’ young players to play hard when he was the manager of Triple A Lehigh Valley. In 2011, Sandberg guided the IronPigs to the International League championship round and just missed out on a playoff berth the following season. While with the IronPigs, Sandberg helped in the development of Dom Brown, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Jonathan Pettibone, Darin Ruf, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, all players who figure into the Phillies’ future.
After six seasons of managing in the minors for the Cubs and the Phillies, Sandberg should have a keen understanding of the development side of the game. However, Sandberg says the biggest factor in player development is veteran leadership. With the new guys coming up, Sandberg says he’s going to lean on players like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to show leadership.
“Chase Utley on a daily basis brings leadership by demonstration and talking with the players," Sandberg said. "For me, he goes about it the way you’d want seven or eight Chase Utleys on the team.
“He’s a guy that’s all about Phillies baseball and really comes every day to the ballpark ready to play. He’s a guy that I would really like him to take some of the younger players under his wing and have the younger players listen to him.
“J-Roll, he’s the steady guy up the middle at an important position. And once again, I think he needs to rise to the occasion to show the young players how to play and step up to what he should do.
“From there, we’re talking about Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee to lead the pitching staff. They’re professional. They go about it the right way. They know how to prepare for a baseball game. I think with my communication with the players on a daily basis with them, I think that’s how you get the message across to some of the key players and to extend that out to their teammates.”
There is going to be a lot to watch over the final 42 games with Sandberg in charge. Still, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the design was not to bring in Sandberg to be Manuel’s heir apparent. The GM said there could be an open competition for the manager’s job this winter, despite the chatter that the job was Sandberg’s all along.
Not so, says Amaro.
“There is a feeling that the reason we brought Ryne Sandberg into our organization was to be the successor to Charlie Manuel," Amaro said. “That was not the case.
“We were trying to continue to fortify our player development system and got to spend some time with him and we got to know a little more about him as someone who is a manager in the minor leagues. We brought him in to make the organization better.
“At Lehigh Valley, the guys played for him and they played with life and they demonstrated to us. At that point, we realized that he should have been a candidate to be a major league manger. He interviewed a couple of different places, but Charlie and I talked about the fact that we were surprised that he hadn’t gotten that opportunity yet. I think he’s got the qualities to be a quality major league manager but time will tell how he handles this situation.”
Sandberg was a candidate for the managerial openings with the Red Sox and with the Cubs twice. As one of the most revered Cubs players of all time, it was a surprise to many in baseball that Sandberg is not managing in Chicago.
Sandberg is to the Cubs what Mike Schmidt was to the Phillies.
But it’s with the Phillies where Sandberg got his start not once, but twice. And it will be with the Phillies where Sandberg will try to turn it all around.