The Phillies still haven’t recovered from the Ryne Sandberg-era

PHILADELPHIA - JULY 21: Manager Ryne Sandberg #23 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - JULY 21: Manager Ryne Sandberg #23 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

Five years after manager Ryne Sandberg quit on the team, the Philadelphia Phillies have yet to enjoy any kind of success.

I will admit that I was a big fan of Ryne Sandberg.

I was genuinely excited about him managing the Philadelphia Phillies because I thought that he was a smart baseball mind who went about things the right way by working his way up through the minors so that he would be ready to take the helm of a major league team someday. Also, on the sentimental side of things, it just seemed appropriate that the Phillies would finally benefit under the guidance of a former player whom they had ignominiously traded away decades before. This was to be Ryne Sandberg’s second chance at a Philadelphia legacy.

Boy, was I wrong.

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Five years ago today, Sandberg quit, exiting stage right from a club that sported the worst record in the majors at 26-48 (and would go on to hold that last place designation at the end of the season). It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Yes, Sandberg was clearly inheriting a collapsing star of a team in 2013 when he took over for Charlie Manuel. Still, it stood to reason that he was the right man for the job because he was good with young players and could resurrect this team from the ashes in a few years once all of the aging players had been cleared out. And, to Sandberg’s credit, he did go 20-22 down the stretch in 2013. It seemed like he was just what the team needed after Uncle Charlie had worn out his welcome.

The Phillies’ 73-89 mark in 2014 wasn’t totally unexpected, as the veterans continued their decline. Still, fair or not, the most disturbing part was Sandberg’s inability to connect with young players like Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, who fell far short of picking up the slack for their veteran teammates. The organization also didn’t do Sandberg any favors by holding onto the likes of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins for too long, taking away an opportunity for youngsters to fill the void. Sandberg was caught in the dreaded “mushy middle”, with the team not yet in a full rebuild but still eons away from being a true contender.

And then came 2015, which was a mess almost from Day One.

After a 3-2 start to the year, the Phillies endured a 6-game losing streak from which they’d never recover. Over the next two months, they’d also post skids of five, four, and seven games. They were on another 6-game streak of sadness on June 16, when they got their heads kicked in 19-3 in Baltimore, a game which I stayed for the entirety of because something is wrong with me. I have to believe that this is the game after which Sandberg finally looked at himself in the mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”.

He’d hang on for another eight games, but he’d eventually make his shocking statement of resignation on June 26, 2015. He had proven to be totally inadequate for the position, and he was absolutely hammered for it in the press. Ryne Sandberg had failed to connect with his players, the media, or the fans, while seemingly going through the motions and wasting nearly two years of our time. As stated, however, the Phillies also deserve blame for putting him in such a position when he clearly wasn’t up to the task.

He had us all fooled, and we paid the price. But at least that was over, right? Now the Phillies would begin the ascension back to respectability first and then, after that, true contention.

Unfortunately, five years later, that still isn’t the case.

In the weeks following Sandberg’s departure, the Phillies made moves for the future by trading away Jonathan Papelbon and Cole Hamels. They also moved on from Chase Utley, as hard as it was to do. By season’s end, this team belonged to “the kids” like Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, and Odubel Herrera.

There’s your first problem, right there. Only Nola remains now, the Phillies seemingly having struck out on the other prospects whom they brought into the fold. They even failed to capitalize on the wretchedness of the 2015 season when they blundered and took Mickey Moniak first overall in the next year’s draft. On top of this, outside “talent” acquired via trade like Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff, and Nick Williams have not made the kind of positive impact they initially looked capable of. And the new front office that the Phillies ushered in has failed to inspire any kind of confidence.

Ryne Sandberg’s career mark as an MLB manager was 119-159, which is a .428 winning percentage. Since the day he walked out the door, the Phillies are 335-401, a .455 rate. It’s better, yes, but those five extra wins per year that they’ve averaged over the last few seasons are still a colossal disappointment. Sandberg’s failure to steer this ship out of the darkness continues to reverberate today, as the team still hasn’t figured out (or remembered) how to win. We probably even avoid the two-year Gabe Kapler experiment if Sandberg doesn’t desert the club and send the organization in a direction that it wasn’t expecting. Thanks a lot, Ryno.

The Phillies have better players now as a result of spending in free agency, it’s true. But does anyone anticipate the kind of long-term success that the team seemed intent on building back up to when Sandberg was the manager? He may have stunted the growth of this team so much that they still need a few more years to totally wash the stink out.

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Sandberg’s tenure was such a regrettable chapter of Phillies history that it’s hard to identify a single good thing for this organization that came out of his time as manager. But enough time has now passed that perhaps the Phillies can finally enter a new era of successful baseball whenever we see MLB take the field again. No matter what, the farther away we get from Ryne Sandberg’s time as the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager, the better.