Before I begin this article, I have a request. If you are not interested in this topic, please pass it on by. There are people for whom Ryne Sandberg means a great deal, even though he's now the manager of another major-league team. It's for those people I'm writing this, and because the hiring of a manager who was a Hall of Fame player as a Cub (and who also managed for several years in the Cubs minor-league system) is relevant to this site as a Cubs/baseball site. Thank you.
As most of you know, I was a proponent of Ryne Sandberg being named Cubs manager, both after the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Two different Cubs executives made different choices for that position, for different reasons. We may never know what those reasons are; it appeared that Sandberg had done everything he could to prove himself worthy of the position, but choices like that are made in baseball -- indeed, in almost any business -- for reasons known only to those with hiring power.
What I do want to say is that this managerial hiring is unique in modern baseball history. There is no other Hall of Fame player in recent times -- perhaps, in any era -- who did what Sandberg did. Sandberg spent nearly a decade out of baseball before coming to Jim Hendry after 2006 and asking to be considered to replace Dusty Baker. Hendry told him, rightly so, that he needed experience -- so Sandberg went and got it, starting at the lowest levels of the minor leagues, just as a player would. The closest comps among Sandberg's Hall of Fame peers: Mike Schmidt also tried this, but quit after one year of managing in the Gulf Coast League; Gary Carter managed several years in the Mets' system, but never made it to the big leagues as a manager. The last Hall of Fame player to have a significant managing career was Frank Robinson -- but Robinson is 25 years older than Sandberg, and began as a player-manager, one of the last of his kind.
Teams used to do this all the time with their great players, particularly the Giants, who were successful with that concept; Hall of Famers Bill Terry and Mel Ott both managed the Giants after their playing careers, and except for the Giants' hiring of Leo Durocher, the first manager of the Giants who did not play for the team wasn't hired until 1977 (Don't believe me? Go look.) Even the Cubs tried this; Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Grimm, Phil Cavarretta and Stan Hack all managed the Cubs after distinguished playing careers for the team.
That kind of hiring simply wouldn't work today, because the job of a manager is quite different in 2013 than it was in the 1930s, 1940s or even the 1970s. Interestingly enough, a Baseball Prospectus guest column by former MLB player Gabe Kapler appeared just last week, in which he described the job of a modern major-league manager:
The average manager of an MLB team gets to the ballpark at 1:30 in the afternoon. He’s immediately inundated with media requests, face-to-face meetings with players, and the various concerns of his potentially needy coaching staff. His phone rings, and his seven-year-old daughter scored a goal and wants to tell him all about it. He’s fat and needs to spend some time on the treadmill before batting practice. Bang, it’s 7:05, and game time. Postgame, there’s more media time, meatloaf and green beans at the ballpark, a few beers, and 30 minutes at home with his wife. 2:30am bedtime, up at 10:30am. That’s an average day.
Sandberg's kids are all grown -- he's a bit old to be a first-time manager, as he turns 54 next month -- so that won't be an issue (nor is his weight!), but you can see the demands put on every manager, and those demands would have been far greater given Sandberg's status in Chicago, had he been hired here. This might have been one of the considerations both Jim Hendry and Theo Epstein made when they were mulling whether to hire him or not. I suppose you could make some comparisons with the White Sox' hiring of Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura, both popular former players with that fanbase. Neither was as good a player as Sandberg, and in the case of Guillen at least, it doesn't appear to me that Ozzie cared at all what anyone thought of him. This isn't to imply that Sandberg does, or would had he been hired by the Cubs, only that it might have been a consideration.
The only thing I think the Cubs have missed out on by not hiring Ryne Sandberg is summed up by the current Cubs players who played for him in the team's system, particularly Darwin Barney:
Sandberg, who played 15 seasons with the Cubs, spent four years as a Minor League manager in their organization, beginning at Class A Peoria in 2007. Barney was on the team at the time, and learned a lot from the Hall of Fame second baseman. "The main thing was his competitive nature and the way he prepared for every game, even as a manager," Barney said. "He didn’t say too much when things weren’t needed to be said. When he did say things, you definitely listened because it was very timely and to the point. I think he became a players’ manager pretty quick. He’s a guy you think about and you want to go to battle with him."
Now if such a manager had been anyone except Ryne Sandberg, wouldn't you want that man as Cubs manager? Sandberg was widely praised as a manager in the Cubs organization and was named Manager of the Year in the Pacific Coast League in 2010.
For whatever reason, it didn't happen. Only time will tell if Sandberg will succeed as a major-league manager; though his tag is "interim" for now, I don't think there's too much doubt that he'll be offered the chance at the full-time Phillies job, maybe on a two-year deal. I hope he does well; as noted above, what he's done is unique among modern Hall of Fame players. Perhaps he'll put together a solid managing career and bring the Phillies back to the World Series. Perhaps someday, the situation will be such that he'll fit as a Cubs managerial choice.
Until then, I wish Sandberg much luck in Philadelphia and hope the Phillies win many games for him -- except when they're playing the Cubs, of course. I'll be very interested in seeing the reaction when he first steps onto the field at Wrigley two weeks from now to make a pitching change; he should get a loud ovation, and well-deserved. (Sandberg has managed one game at Wrigley Field, the "Road To Wrigley" game for the Peoria Chiefs, July 29, 2008.) His first Wrigley game as Phillies manager will be Friday, August 30, a 1:20 start. (That ought to sell some tickets, right?)