Ian Casselberry is Editor Emeritus for Bless You Boys, the definitive Detroit Tigers blog, and he also writes about them for MLive. You can also follow him on Twitter — @IanCass. We're honored to have Ian contribute his point of view on the possibility of Ryne Sandberg managing his former team.
One of the most romantic ideas in sports might be that of the returning hero. If you've followed a team for decades, seeing a former player come back as coach or manager holds great appeal. Especially if he was an all-time great who might have been your favorite player.
So if you're a Chicago Cubs fan thinking about Ryne Sandberg making a triumphant return to the Wrigley Field dugout, this could be an exciting time. It's a little kernel of hope, something to anticipate when your team is 10 games under .500 and hanging out in fourth place.
But as someone who's been through a similar circumstance with the team I'm devoted to, I have six words for you to consider: Be careful what you wish for.
In 2002, the Detroit Tigers endured a 106-loss season. Perhaps even worse, Tigers fans had to watch Luis Pujols manage 155 games. It was a bleak time at Comerica Park. Everyone knew the team had to be torn down and built back up again.
It was a tough sell to Tigers fans. And none of the players was the type you'd build around. So general manager Dave Dombrowski brought in someone who already had been the face of the Tigers.
If you grew up in the late-70s or early-80s, Trammell was probably the best Tigers player you ever watched. He won a World Series in 1984. He should've won the AL MVP award in 1987. He played 20 seasons in Detroit.
Trammell was the only reason to be excited about the 2003 team. Unfortunately, between the end of his playing days and his hiring as manager, Trammell hadn't done much to show he deserved the job. He was the Tigers' hitting coach in 1999. For three seasons after that, he was the first-base coach for his hometown San Diego Padres.
But as long as Trammell was the manager, fans wouldn't completely bail on the Tigers during their rebuilding project. He was Alan Trammell, an all-time Tigers great. For so many fans who grew up watching the team, he was their favorite player. No matter how terrible the team was, they wouldn't boo him, right?
That seemed to be what Dombrowski was thinking. But Trammell's experience was already questionable. As popular as it was to hire teammates Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson for his coaching staff, getting the band back together didn't make up for those shortcomings. So when Trammell made bad decisions with the bullpen, chose status over merit, or let Pudge Rodriguez undermine his authority, he was open to criticism. And as the Tigers continued to lose games, those fans did start to boo him.
Detroit fans booed Trammell. I never would've thought it possible before he became the Tigers manager. They called in to sports talk radio to call him an idiot for botched moves the night before. They screamed "You suck!" from the stands. My inner 12-year-old Tigers fan was stunned. You didn't tell Alan Trammell he sucked. Yet the current team was terrible, and he was held responsible.
Eventually, the Tigers fired Trammell. He was the fall guy who bought Dombrowski time and goodwill while he put together his team for the right manager. One of the Tigers' greatest players suffered the indignity of being told he wasn't good enough and was shoved out the back door.
Is a similar ending inevitable for Sandberg if he becomes the Cubs' next manager? Maybe not. Sandberg certainly brings far more managerial experience to the Cubs than Trammell brought to the Tigers.
Over the past four years, he's paid his minor league dues in Peoria, Knoxville and Des Moines. His résumé isn't merely a playing career.
Coincidentally, Trammell — now a Cubs coach — also could interview for the job.
General manager Jim Hendry will probably overhaul next year's roster. As a result, whoever manages the Cubs will lose games as he tries to mesh together a mix of unproven prospects and second-rate veterans.
If the manager is Sandberg, will you show him patience under those circumstances, Cub fans? Or will you boo him? Are you ready to see Sandberg fired if and when he's not successful? Or is preserving your memories worth the risk of him taking a job elsewhere and becoming the next Mike Scioscia?