If you put together a pie chart that divvied up the percentage of blame for this hideous Phillies season, you'd have to find a share for Ryne Sandberg. As the losses have mounted, the grumbling about the manager has grown larger and louder inside and outside the clubhouse.
"That's just a normal reaction," said Larry Bowa, the manager's bench coach and close friend.
How much blame you want to pin on Sandberg is all a matter of opinion.
You could argue that he leaves his starters in too long at times or that he has let lefthanded relievers Mario Hollands and Jake Diekman face too many righthanded hitters. You could argue that he has mishandled Ryan Howard's delicate presence in the lineup and not given Darin Ruf enough of a chance to play, although those are probably not his decisions alone to make. You could complain that Carlos Ruiz is batting too low in the order and Domonic Brown, when he plays, too high.
Has the manager made some mistakes in his first full big-league season? Yes.
Has he been the biggest problem? Not even close.
Was he thrust into a difficult situation? Most definitely.
Can he be part of the solution going forward? Absolutely.
"I think it's a lot easier to take a team like I did [with the 2001 Phillies]," Bowa said. "They weren't a very good team and you come in and basically they are all pretty young. You can do things with a younger team that you just don't do with a veteran team. You can tell younger players that if they don't get the job done that they are out of here. You can't do that with veteran players."
Bowa's point is that Sandberg has a particular way he wants things done and it would have been a lot easier for him to implement his philosophy if the Phillies were a young team building toward something. Instead, they are an aging team with established players who believe their way is the best way.
"I think he communicates well with his players," Bowa said. "He understands the game. No matter what, you could talk about the interim stuff, but it takes a good year for you to know your personnel. Spring training to me is six weeks of taking a look at everybody. You don't really get your feet wet there.
"You had a team here that was very successful for five years and then the last three years they have not been very good, so you have guys that, let's face it, they're set in their ways. They've had a lot of success. They've made all-star teams, they won a World Series and sometimes it takes a while to get used to a new voice."
Bowa suggested that any chance the Phillies had for success in 2014 was stripped by the loss of Cliff Lee and the monthlong stretch the team went without Ruiz and his backup, Wil Nieves. Those things didn't help, but the truth is that this season was doomed even if the Phillies remained in perfect health.
It was also destined for too many defeats even if Sandberg had been the second coming of Joe Torre in his rookie season as a big-league manager. The roster needs a makeover and Sandberg should be allowed and insist upon a strong voice in those decisions.
"Obviously you have to make some changes; there is no question about that," Bowa said. "But for the most part Ryno has done a good job. Obviously there are certain things you learn as a manager as you go. I guarantee you he is much better now, and I'm talking about the whole gamut of managing, than he was in April. I see that as something that will continuously improve with him, whether it is handling the pitchers or whatever."
Ruben Amaro Jr., a man who deserves a large section on the pie chart of blame, was also asked to assess his manager's performance.
"It's incomplete so far because the season is not over," the general manager said. "He was given a tough task right out of the chute. There was an expectation for us to win. We have a lot of veterans who were, in some cases, underperforming. We had some young guys we were giving opportunities who we expected more from. It's been challenging for him. It's a great learning experience for him. He's still learning and learning different ways to motivate and move the club forward. He's addressing things. He's learning how to handle the players on a daily basis. He's utilizing the staff well. We still have over a month to go, so I'll know more then about how he's done. So far I'm pleased with how he has handled things."
Sandberg deserves a spot on the pie chart of blame, but only a small one because he has had to manage a difficult situation that was not of his making.