Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
There are days where Wrigley Field can just sell itself.
Thats why it will cost as much to see the Marlins, Astros and Reds on three Saturday afternoons next summer when schools out, weathers ideal, and tourism spikes as it will to watch the White Sox, Yankees and Cardinals.
The Cubs understood the demand after analyzing five million pieces of data from the past five years and revealed their new and most expensive marquee pricing tier before they finally decided on their manager for 2011.
Ryne Sandbergs name might have meant something at the box office. When Sandberg brought his Class-A Peoria team to Wrigley Field in July 2008, the Cubs sold 32,103 tickets, or 23,109 more than they did two years later when the Hall of Famer wasnt managing the Chiefs.
But fans today are also more sophisticated than theyve ever been before. In high definition they can watch virtually any game across the country. Online they can reference box scores from shortly after World War I, or look up the terms for Carlos Zambranos 2013 vesting option.
They play fantasy baseball and quote new-wave statistics like VORP and UZR. It was never going to be as simple as installing Sandberg in the dugout and waiting to pass the three-million mark in attendance.
At the same time that information overload the obsession with organizational rankings and prospect lists will probably yield a greater appreciation for the work Sandberg has done the past four years.
Especially if in the future you regularly hear Go Cubs Go walking out of the stadium after James Russell and Andrew Cashner jog in from the bullpen. And you notice more people wearing Tyler Colvin jerseys in Wrigleyville. And you see Casey Coleman throwing to Welington Castillo every fifth day.
There is an entire generation of players signed and developed by the Cubs who were born after Sandbergs MVP season in 1984. They played for him at Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
It was an awesome experience for all of us. He shows a lot of confidence in you and lets you play, Coleman said. Just because he didnt get the job here, I think he set himself up for other jobs all over the place.
Jim Hendry has said that Sandberg will absolutely be welcomed back into the organization if he doesnt find a major-league coaching job.
Hendry admits that he is more visible in the clubhouse than most general managers. He doesnt have the Ivy League pedigree of some of other executives in the game who are more comfortable in a boardroom with a spreadsheet. His background is in coaching and scouting, so he listened when the Cubs supported Mike Quade.
Managing is handling people, communicating with people, being upfront (and) having your convictions, which Mike does, Hendry said. You cant fool players. You cant be one way (one) day or (another way) the next. (Quade) set the rules and regulations. They followed them.
Some have wondered why we should even pay attention to the player endorsements. After all, they looked like a 100-loss team before Quade took over. Well, it mattered to Hendry.
Ryan Dempster the first player to publicly lobby for Quade to return is the company man. He deferred part of his 2010 salary so Hendry would have more flexibility to pursue a free agent last winter. Ownership has supported Dempsters charitable foundation and the young pitchers look up to him.
Given Dempsters stature within the organization he was the only player spotted at Quades introductory press conference this week it was impossible for the media to ignore his support.
Aramis Ramirez who said no one could have done a better job than Quade with this roster could have instead just cut-and-pasted one of his standard responses: I get paid to play third base. You got to ask Jim Hendry that question.
Ramirez didnt answer that way and you have to put this all in context. Of course the players brought up from Triple-A would never rip Sandberg when asked about the manager in Des Moines. But there were specific, telling moments.
Darwin Barney a natural shortstop blocked by Starlin Castro recalled how Sandberg went over every situation that could come up at second base and explained in detail how to turn the double play when they knew a promotion was coming soon.
Micah Hoffpauir was lost when he didnt make the Cubs out of spring training and hit .196 during his first two months in Iowa. Sandberg encouraged Hoffpauir, telling him to relax and reassuring him that he would carry the team. Hoffpauir finished at .283 with 22 homers and 95 RBI in 118 games.
Throughout the system, Sandberg played a part in their educations. The past three years Coleman pitched for Sandberg at three different affiliates and then went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in his eight starts with the Cubs.
Colemans father and grandfather pitched in the majors and its impossible to answer the nature versus nurture question but he appreciated how Sandberg understands what it takes to make it there and excel.
You see eye to eye with him and a lot of players love that, Coleman said. Everyone thought this was supposed to be Rynos job, but (with such a strong finish under Quade), its really hard to change that.
Sandberg wont be standing on the top step of the dugout at Wrigley Field next year, but he wont be forgotten, and not just because his numbers retired there.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.