Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
11:25 AM Updated 2:24 PM
By Patrick Mooney
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Ron Santo couldnt remember Ryne Sandbergs name, even if the second baseman was the most popular Cubs player of his generation. So Santo called him big boy, and over the years it became their greeting to each other.
Santo and Sandberg both grew up in the Seattle area, and came of age as Cubs. For years they were both fixtures at Wrigley Field. It saddened Sandberg last week when he learned that Santo died at the age of 70 from complications with bladder cancer.
It will be hard to replace Ron Santo I dont think you can, Sandberg said Monday at the winter meetings. He wasnt your typical radio announcer, but everyone knew what he meant and how he felt, even if he didnt get all the facts right, all the names right.
(Everybody) knew how emotional he was about the game. That came across loud and clear on the radio.
If Sandberg feels estranged from the Cubs after being passed over for the job that ultimately went to Mike Quade, he didnt let it show. Sandberg, like Santo, will always be a Cubs legend, but now hes writing a new chapter to his story.
Sandbergs focused on managing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A club of the Philadelphia Phillies, the organization that first drafted him and later traded him and Larry Bowa to Chicago for Ivan DeJesus.
It kind of erases some of the people that Ive ran into the last 30 years, Sandberg said, Phillies fans (who) say: Youre the one that got away and all that.
There are Cubs fans who no doubt feel the same way, though Sandberg insists hes happy. He will take pride in all the prospects who loved playing for him at Class-A Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
We were a tight group, Sandberg said. For some of those players, we were tight for four years, so it will be great to see those guys go up there and contribute. Thats really gratifying. I hope some of them will get a shot next year and do well.
Sandberg was at the Swan and Dolphin resort on Monday representing the Hall of Fame, as part of the committee that elected executive Pat Gillick to Cooperstown. Santo will not be eligible for induction again until 2012, though the ballot hasnt been compiled yet and wont be revealed until next year.
Even with the outpouring of emotion for Santo, the committee wont be swayed easily. Gillick a former general manager in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia and the architect of three World Series champions was the only one chosen from a group that included George Steinbrenner and union leader Marvin Miller.
Sandberg could have spent the rest of his life signing autographs, but isnt satisfied with his legacy only being as a player. With the Phillies, he said hes not planning to wear the No. 23 the Cubs retired five years ago. Perhaps thats a sign hes breaking free from the past. This is a chance to build out his resume.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel will be 67 next season, but Sandberg certainly knows that he isnt promised anything. He remains open-minded about his future in managing, and the possibilities of another big-league job.
I havent really had a timetable, Sandberg said. I like what Im doing. I like where Im at.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.