Oftentimes when a new manager takes over a ballclub in the middle of a season, it’s difficult to make too many changes. Generally, the interim manager tries to keep the ship afloat before stepping back to make an assessment.
Rarely does a manager come in and make a lot of big changes. That’s especially the case for a manager getting his first chance in the big leagues.
But Ryne Sandberg isn’t the typical mid-season replacement. A Hall-of-Fame player, Sandberg has a little more cachet than most first-time managers and has used his influence appropriately.
For instance, Sandberg has changed the report time for the players at the ballpark to 3 p.m. In the past the report time used to be a bit later, but Sandberg puts such a premium on pre-game workouts that he wants the players at the park to prepare.
Sandberg also wants all of the players standing in front of the dugout during the National Anthem. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in the aesthetics. The Phillies look like a team when all of the players are standing in the same area for the anthem. Previously, the rule wasn’t so hard and fast. With Charlie Manuel, some players were standing in front of the dugout for the anthem and others were in the outfield stretching or running strides to stretch out before the game.
Again, it’s a little change and it’s not significant in the ultimate scheme of things. But it is a show of team unity.
“For me as a manager, I stressed getting back to the basics,” Sandberg said before Wednesday’s game against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve preached that and talked at it. It’s a work ethic pregame and working on things. It is chatter on the bench. It’s asking the guys to hustle at all times and have a little hop in their steps and talking about the game that is there to be played and won every single day.”
Pre-game workouts, hustle and chatter on the bench are three of the hallmarks behind Sandberg’s early tenure as manager. Yet another of Sandberg’s tenets is for the veteran players to mentor the youngsters coming up with the team. The veterans should be the leaders, according to Sandberg, and he hasn’t minced words when explaining to players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, that he expects them to take strong leadership roles.
That’s the way it was when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs and Larry Bowa was mentoring him. Later, Sandberg helped show the way to players like Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston, among others.
In that regard, Sandberg hopes a pitcher like Lee, who may prefer to do things his own way and perhaps even apart from the team, takes a role as a leader.
“Cliff is a good pitcher and he’s a big part of the pitching rotation and he has good stuff,” Sandberg said. “But when you manage players you have individuals and one of my goals and concepts is to create a team atmosphere and a team concept. And to let Cliff go and do anything he wants to -- no chance.”
Sandberg says he told Lee of his expectations.
“I’ve had conversations with Cliff,” Sandberg said. “It goes back to trying to get the most out of Cliff and thinking about the team and thinking about his teammates and with the team concept.”
In the meantime, Sandberg says there really hasn’t been much of a change at all. There is just a different man in the manager’s seat. The message hasn’t changed all that much.
“We’ve been doing that all year -- the enthusiasm and the talking on the bench,” Sandberg said. “We did that as a coaching staff and we’ll continue to do that.”