Phillies name Ryne Sandberg full-time manager
Thirty-two years ago, a big-league dream was realized for a 21-year-old from Spokane, Wash.
Ryne Dee Sandberg, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in the 1978 draft, pinch-ran for Bob Boone in the ninth inning against the Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. With Sandberg on first, Larry Bowa and Pete Rose followed with back-to-back hits to bring the rookie home with the go-ahead run.
Sandberg had climbed the minor league ladder, beginning with stops in Helena, Mont., and Spartanburg, S.C. But on the second day of September in 1981, he became a major leaguer and never looked back, beginning a big-league career that would culminate with being honored among the game's greatest players in Cooperstown, N.Y.
A half-dozen years ago, however, the second act of Sandberg's career took him in a direction few Hall of Famers would consider.
Sandberg went back to the minor leagues as the manager of the Chicago Cubs' Class A team in Peoria, Ill. He continued riding minor league buses for 5 more years, including 2011 and '12 as manager of the Phillies' Triple A affiliate, Lehigh Valley, before he was named the Phillies' third-base coach last winter.
"Totally worthwhile," Sandberg said yesterday during a pregame news conference.
The bus rides, motel-room stays and postgame spreads in lieu of five-star restaurants were worth it for Sandberg because, on the final home date of the Phillies schedule, he was back in the big leagues for good.
Sandberg was named the 52nd manager in the history of the Phillies franchise before yesterday's game at Citizens Bank Park. Sandberg had been named interim manager 5 weeks earlier, when Charlie Manuel was fired.
"I think there's been a very large weight lifted off me," Sandberg said of having the interim tag removed from his job title. "I'm ecstatic, to say the least."
"We're ecstatic as an organization to have Ryne Sandberg lead us on the field for the next several years and for the foreseeable future," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I'm kind of excited about it, frankly."
Amaro took care of the biggest chore on his offseason to-do list yesterday, a week before the Phillies play their final game of the 2013 season at Atlanta. The general manager didn't see the sense in bringing in a long list of managerial candidates for interviews next month since he felt more than comfortable with Sandberg, who already knows the ins and outs of the organization, from the minor leagues to the major leagues.
"I think that he's got an idea and a vision for what's necessary to try to move this organization forward," Amaro said.
Following yesterday's loss to the Mets, which finished off a three-game sweep, the Phillies are 18-17 since Sandberg took over for Manuel. But it was clear from the beginning that Amaro was looking beyond wins and losses in evaluating Sandberg.
"It was very, very clear to me, right from the get-go, the way he handled the transition during a very, very difficult period and having to take over for an icon of sorts in our Phillies history in Charlie," Amaro said. "It was very, very difficult circumstances and I think he handled it very, very well. I think he handled the players well, the clubhouse very well. We kind of gave him free rein of what he needed to do and I really liked the instincts of how he handled things."
Sandberg inherits a team in transition, one with several expensive, oft-injured veterans and one with at least a handful of inexperienced players, too.
The Phillies clinched their first losing season since 2002 on Friday. After winning five straight National League East titles, along with a World Series championship and two NL pennants, too, the Phils will sit out the postseason for the second straight October.
Just 2 years removed from winning a franchise-record 102 games, the most in the major leagues for the second straight season, the Phillies have experienced a rapid decline and, as an effect, the interest from the fan base has waned, too. Although yesterday's crowd pushed the 2013 season attendance mark past 3 million, the Phillies still drew 555,315 fewer fans this season than in 2012.
Needless to say, Sandberg will have his work cut out in 2014, especially if he believes the playoffs are within reach.
"Well, that's the goal," Sandberg said. "I think we have a very nice core of veteran players that will help lead the way, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, just to name a few. I think the bullpen has come a long way with the young arms this year in a growing year where that bullpen could actually be a bright spot next year, which could be a big help. Along with other decisions that have to be made and players to be talked about, I do like . . . the young players and how they've played and how they might fit in next year bringing energy and athleticism to the team. And with that combination, the goal is to contend every year and to get to a World Series."
Reaching the World Series is the goal for every team every year, of course. But it's also Sandberg's holy grail.
Sandberg joined the Phillies for the first time in September 1981, 11 months after they won the 1980 World Series. He was traded away that winter, 2 years before the Phils returned to the World Series.
Sandberg spent the rest of his 16-year playing career with the Chicago Cubs, a team that hasn't appeared in a World Series since 1945, 14 years before he was born.
"My goal was to get back to the major leagues at some capacity," Sandberg said last month of a managerial career that began in 2007. "That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to play during a championship season, have a chance to get back to the postseason at the major league level, and have the chance to win a World Series at the major league level, which I didn't have a chance to do [as a player]. I had two postseasons with the Cubs, but never a World Series appearance. Those were all goals to do at the major league level at some capacity."
With the promotion, Sandberg will get that opportunity in 2014 in the place where his big-league career began 3 decades earlier.
"This is a man who has worked his way through the minor leagues and he has unbelievable Hall of Fame credentials, but I think more importantly than that, he's a very, very good baseball man," Amaro said. "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, and I think we have a great start with Ryne Sandberg at the helm."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21