It took a little getting used to on Friday night when Ryne Sandberg was suddenly thrust into the manager’s seat for the Phillies following Charlie Manuel’s ouster. At one point before Friday night’s game against the Dodgers began, Sandberg was ready to put on his helmet and run out to the third-base coaching box.
Nope, managers don’t have to coach third base in the majors. Sandberg can put that helmet away.
Needless to say, the new Phillies’ manager expected a little more normalcy going into Saturday night’s game against the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park in which the Phils lost 5-0. That is, of course, after he found approximately 185 messages on his phone from Friday night.
“As soon as I got home, I checked my text messages, and I had 185, [from people] going back to high-school days,” Sandberg said. “How they got my number? I have no idea. The number evidently is out there floating around, and everyone got a hold of it. I haven’t even thought about answering all of them, but all were positive and congratulatory. Yeah, there were some names from the past, not only baseball people that I know, but some interesting messages from people that I didn’t forget about, but it’s been a while.
“There were a lot of players I’ve played against that I was surprised to hear from. But really, the biggest thing was, how did they get my phone number?”
Sandberg might need to get a new number now that the focus has returned to baseball. It is the game, after all, that drove the Hall-of-Fame second baseman to give managing a try back in 2007 for the Cubs’ Single A affiliate in Peoria, Ill. In fact, it was an odd route for a player of Sandberg’s stature to take in order to get to the big leagues as a manager.
Of all the Hall of Fame players to manage in the big leagues, Sandberg is one of a handful to take the traditional route by working his way up from the minors. Hall of Fame players Roger Bresnahan and Frank Chance managed in the minors, but that came after they had already managed in the big leagues.
Why was it that Sandberg took the road less traveled?
“I thought what it boiled down to was none of the Hall of Famers wanted to go through the process and earn the right to manage,” Sandberg said. “I learned that, I got the history on that, so when I was offered the A-Ball job for the Cubs in Peoria, Illinois, knowing all this, I jumped all over that and got right into it.”
One has to wonder if any of Sandberg’s Hall-of-Fame buddies thought he was crazy for getting back into the game by bouncing around on buses and in cheap hotels instead of flying chartered flights and the staying at the Ritz-Carlton.
Sandberg didn’t think there was any other way to go about getting back into the game.
“The first two calls I made were to Jim Frey, my former manager, and Don Zimmer,” Sandberg said. “Both of them immediately said ‘That’s great, you know the game of baseball. Be yourself and get after it.’ That was huge. I can be myself, but over the past seven years, I'll say I've grown for the position with going through the process.”
It hasn’t been easy. Just because the guy was a Hall-of-Fame player, it doesn’t mean he knows how to manage. In fact, Sandberg says when he took over the Peoria team in spring training he was like a fish out of water. Not only was he the managing the team, but also in the minors Sandberg did everything short of drive the bus.
It took a while for Sandberg to figure it out, but as soon as it came together, Sandberg loved it and took to it.
That’s when he knew that he made the right choice in trying to return to the majors as a manager.
“Being in charge of 25 players and their development and knowing the drills that need to be done, organizing the daily schedule that everybody's getting their work, knowing what to work on, all the areas. That's wearing a managerial hat in the minor leagues,” Sandberg said. “I've told some people, and I wasn’t kidding, that if I was able to go to the minor leagues and manage first, I would've been a better player. They often snickered at that, but I totally believe that.”
Working his way up through the minors for a second time also helped Sandberg re-evaluate his ultimate goals as a manager, too. After reaching the postseason just twice in 17 big league seasons, Sandberg is still after that elusive trip to the World Series.
To get to the World Series as a manager would be just as sweet as doing it as a player, he says.
“For someone who hasn’t experienced a World Series or who has experienced it once, that should be a goal,” Sandberg said. “And for someone who has never experienced it, that makes it even more so.”
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