Sandberg gets job that was his all along
The only shocking part about Ryne Sandberg's having the interim removed from his title before Sunday's home finale at Citizens Bank Park was that it was there in the first place.
Ruben Amaro Jr. can pretend that he did not come to the conclusion that Sandberg would be the manager of the 2014 Phillies until "pretty recently," but there wasn't a soul alive who believed this situation would turn out any other way than it did.
It was the right decision, and the general manager sure needed one after the way the last two seasons have gone. Though Sandberg should not have had to prove he was worthy of being a manager after six minor-league seasons in that role, he did so by showing he could win in the major leagues with a bunch of players who spent a good amount of time in the minor leagues this season.
Even after Sunday's 4-3 loss to the New York Mets, the Phillies are 18-17 under Sandberg.
"I just sat down a couple of minutes ago to let the players know, and the energy in the room was extraordinary," Amaro said before the game. "I'm kind of excited about it, frankly."
Sandberg, 54, was excited, too. His wife, Margaret, sat in the front row at the news conference, and his agents - Jim Turner and Rex Gary - stood in the back. The Hall of Famer willing to do the grunt work necessary to get back to the big leagues described the moment as "a dream come true."
For Sandberg, there's a week remaining in the honeymoon. The Phillies will close out this lost season Sunday in Atlanta and then will begin to remake the roster, with pitching - relief and starting - being the greatest area of need.
Immediate pressure was applied by Sandberg's boss.
"I think he's going to carry us forward and do what's necessary to put another ring on our finger, and that's really the goal - to get back and be a world champion," Amaro said. "I think we have a great start with Ryne Sandberg at the helm."
Amaro, finishing his fifth season as GM, is under far more scrutiny than Sandberg because his fingerprints are all over this nightmare that led to his new manager's dream coming true. If Amaro does not have a better offseason than the last two, there's a chance that a dream could come true for some other general manager after next season.
Regardless of what Amaro does between now and mid-February, Sandberg will welcome an interesting mix of players to spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
"I'm excited about the potential for next year with the core players we'll have in place that will help lead the way, but also the young potential players that have shown the last month what they can do," Sandberg said. "I think it's a bright future."
How Sandberg handles the mixture of young and old will be his most difficult and most fascinating challenge next season. Out of necessity and a desire to look at all possible options for 2014, Sandberg has used 30 different lineups in 35 games since replacing Charlie Manuel.
He hasn't filled out a lineup card with Ryan Howard on it, and that figures to change next season. In addition to pitching help, the Phillies would like to add another righthanded outfield bat with power, which would leave Darin Ruf in the position of being a fourth outfielder and reserve first baseman. If Ruf performs better than Howard or any outfield addition, he will deserve more playing time regardless of how much money the two other guys are making.
Unlike Manuel, Sandberg does not have a long history with the older players on his team. If Manuel was overly loyal to his veterans, it was because he rode down Broad Street with them after winning a World Series. Sandberg has been charged with trying to win another one, and he's going to be willing to play whoever he believes is most qualified to make that happen.
"There will be opportunities for jobs to be won," the manager said. "I think that's what spring training is all about. A little competition can go a long way. We've got some young players that have shown well these last 30 games: Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis, just to name a couple. Darin Ruf, Cody Asche. That's good young energy that you filter in and have them compete for jobs for next year and compete with veteran players.
"I think that's something that was needed here - a little young energy in there. We've seen some of these guys bring that."
It is Sandberg who has been charged with bringing in a new era of Phillies baseball even as remnants of the old one remain.
Contact Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @brookob.