Of all the contracts the Philadelphia Phillies have dished out over the last decade, I think that Ryne Sandberg’s may end up being the most important. Replacing the winningest manager in Charlie Manuel is hard enough on it’s own, but bringing back to life an aging core of veterans is nearly impossible in the sports realm. As a first year manager, Sandberg will have his hands full, but success is within reach on a team full of veterans that will respect the only hall of fame coach (as a player) in the professional ranks.
Ryne Sandberg began his storied professional career by getting drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the 1978 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in 1981 as a shortstop playing in 13 games for the Phillies. Before the 1982 season, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with veteran Larry Bowa. The Phillies received Ivan Dejesus in what may be the worst transaction in Phillies history.
Sandberg broke out in the 1984 season, winning the National League MVP award. Along with that, he became a perennial All-Star(1984-93) and Gold Glove winner(1983-91). His career .989 fielding percentage is a major league record at second base and he was a Silver Slugger Award winner seven times.He is one of only three players to have a 40 homerun season and a 50 steal season (1990) on his resume (Barry Bonds, Brady Anderson). He retired after the 1994 season but came back to the Chicago Cubs in 1996 to play two more seasons before retiring for good. In 2005 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and is widely regarded as one of the best second basemen to ever play the game.
In the world of Sabermetrics, Ryne Sandberg was a god. Take a look at this for one moment and you will see just how good this man was. In 2006, Ryan Howard (who ran away with N.L. MVP) hit 58 home runs and had 149 RBI’s to garner him a 5.2 WAR(Wins Against Replacement). In 1984, Sandberg’s MVP season, his WAR was an incredible 8.5. He also had 5 other seasons that topped Howard’s 2006.
After retiring from baseball, Sandberg stayed relatively quiet until 2006, when he was named the manager of the Chicago Cubs Class-A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. In his first year, he led that team to the Midwest championship game. He was promoted in 2009 to the Tirple-A Iowa Cubs and in 2010 was named the Pacific Coast Manager of the Year. It was thought that he would be in the running to manage the Chicago Cubs once Lou Piniella retired, but ultimately Mike Quade (who only lasted two seasons) was chosen for the position.
Still looking for a shot to be a big-league manager, Sandberg left the Cubs organization to coach the Phillies Tirple-A affiliate the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in 2011. That season the Ironpigs had their first winning season in franchise history and made an appearance in the Governors Cup, leading to Baseball America naming him their 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year.
After the 2012 season, the Phillies promoted Sandberg to third base coach and infield instructor for the Philadelphia Phillies, a move many insiders consider a stepping stone to the managers job. After they fired Charlie Manuel in August of 2013, the Phillies tagged Sandberg as the interim manager. A little more then a month later he was given full status and a three year contract, making sure that the Phillies didn’t allow Sandberg to make his managerial name in another organization, like he did as a player.
As Ryne Sandberg enters his first full season as a big league manager, much is at stake, and it really hinges on this season. The direction of the team will be played out in the first few months of the season. If they play well and are in contention, then they at least can continue to try to contend for the 2014 season. But if things fall apart early in the 2014 season, ownership may decide that it is time to rebuild both the team and the front office. A new general manager and organizational direction could very well put Sandberg’s long-term future with the team in jeopardy.
All that said, if anyone is capable of doing the job, it is Sandberg. His nickname is “Ryno” for the way he played the game, hard. He has passion for baseball, and if his minor league stints are any indication, he is a very good observer and teacher of the game. He seems to have had both a good relationship with his players through the minor leagues and the ability to get his teams to overachieve. If he is going to be the long-term fix as the Phillies manager, that trend will have to continue to the big leagues.