2013 In Review: Top Five Individuals in Philadelphia Sports in 2013

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5. Ryne Sandberg-Phillies Manager

Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

As a player, Ryne Sandberg was a primary chip of what many felt was one of the worst trades in Philadelphia sports history. Now, decades later, Sandberg has a chance to impact the organization in a whole new way. In 2012, there were rumblings that pegged Sandberg as the Phillies’ manager of the future; he was thrust into the role roughly 3/4 through the team’s dismal 2013 campaign. Despite less than ideal circumstances (see previous entry), sports can be a cold business and Sandberg established from the jump that this was a team that was done making excuses and hiding behind their lofty reputations.

When a team hires a new coach, unless his predecessor was able to retire on top, the situation is almost always painted in a negative light. The Phillies were bumbling through their second straight disappointing campaign after nearly a decade of success under Charlie Manuel. There were those who, out of good will, felt Manuel should have been able to complete his contract and leave the team he led to a championship on his own terms. It was not to be however and on the heels of one of the Phillies’ worst stretches of the season, Manuel was shown the door. Sandberg, who had been named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2011 for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, and had served as the team’s 3rd base coach during the season was plugged in to his first MLB managerial role under some of the worst conditions one could imagine. The once dominant Phillies lineup had been ravaged by injuries and age-related decline. The team’s rotation was coming apart at the seams and the bullpen was laughable to say the least. For what many felt was a trial period for the heir-apparent to Manuel, the odds for success were stacked against Sandberg.

One could have given every reason for the first-year skipper to make excuses to justify losing games. However, from his first appearance under his new title, it became abundantly clear that there was a new sheriff in town and everyone was under the microscope. Manuel’s approach, one geared more toward the players, was what made him lovable in the city and his departure that much more saddening. While I do not speak for the vast following of the Phillies, I found Sandberg’s emphasis on accountability and detail a refreshing change of pace.

Despite losing his first game, a 4-0 loss on the road to the Dodgers, the Phillies enjoyed one of their better stretches of the season during Sandberg’s first stretch as manager, going 9-4 after losing his first three games. His hands-on, in-game approach rivaled Manuel’s ‘big picture’ strategy and for the first time in nearly a decade, fans saw their skipper pulling some strings. Though not always successful, Sandberg took the idea of a ‘trial run’ full bore. Between pitching changes in one game that sometimes-totaled Manuel’s over the course of a series, to aggressive base running and tactical play it was clear that Sandberg would leave no stone unturned when it came to seeing what would be at his disposal in his future as manager. Even though the team fizzled out toward the end of the season, there were some signs that Sandberg might be the type of presence necessary to help right the sinking ship that is the Phillies.

The team’s young stable of bullpen arms, most notably Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg, started to show consistency. Young players like Cesar Hernandez played vital roles in some of the team’s most dramatic wins. Perhaps most impressively, the swing-happy Phillies of Charlie Manuel started to run up pitch counts and draw walks.

It is tough to say whether Sandberg will be a success in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for him, that is mostly due to the man writing the checks and running the personnel sides of the organization ahead of him. Ruben Amaro Jr. may have already caused enough irreversible damage to the Phillies than Sandberg can legitimately work with if the team wants to return to contention. The longer Amaro stays in charge, the more unstable the franchise’s situation becomes. Another unfortunate reality of sports is that the most important man in the organization is not always necessarily the smartest, or even most qualified to do so. For the Phillies, until they acknowledge the damaging effect Amaro Jr. has had on the team, he will continue to have a trickle down impact on the organization that could make success impossible. That being said, Ryne Sandberg walked into as difficult a situation as a coach could when it comes to taking a new job. For what he was working with, Sandberg not only put forth a solid product over stretches, but he spared no words when it came to both praising and criticizing his team’s performance. The Philadelphia sports scene is undergoing a shift away from the coaches who may have remained in their post beyond their shelf life due to reputation and past success. Sandberg is a prime example of that shift and it should be interesting to see if his approach can help bring about a revival of the Phillies in terms of a successful organization.