This is why Ryne Sandberg couldn’t have been Mike Quade’s third-base coach or reported to Lou Piniella. It would have been a distraction, the manager looking over his shoulder, the Chicago media on “Ryno Watch” and Cubs fans thinking he’d have all the answers.
Sandberg sat down on the bench at 10 a.m. on Friday, surrounded by about two-dozen reporters sweating in the visiting dugout, the television cameras lined up at the railing. The Philadelphia Phillies interim manager spoke for nearly 18 minutes and said nothing really controversial.
Sandberg waited to zing the Cubs after a 6-5 comeback victory at Wrigley Field, wondering about that crowd of 27,763.
“The empty seats is something new to me,” Sandberg said. “Most of my career, from ’84 on, it was a tough ticket and a sellout, so a little odd to see the bleachers that empty. Other than that, I noticed a lot of Phillies fans are here and made the trip. They got a little loud there in the ninth.”
The Cubs never drew three million fans during any season in the 1980s or 1990s. But point taken: The buzz about a franchise icon returning to the North Side really just wasn’t there.
There was a nice ovation as the PA guy announced the starting lineups over the organ music. There were more cheers when Sandberg brought the lineup card to home plate at 1:17 p.m. There were also entire rows of empty seats as the temperature soared to 91 degrees by first pitch.
No roar, no wall of sound. It probably got just as loud when former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jon Lovitz finished singing the seventh-inning stretch.
But that didn’t matter to a Phillies team that erased a five-run deficit and survived a rocky start from Roy Halladay (five runs, five innings) as he comes back from shoulder surgery.
“The good part about Ryno is he wasn’t trying to (pretend),” said Michael Young, who went 4-for-5 with two RBI. “He made it to known to all of us that this thing means something to him.
“He was walking around before BP, checking everything out. He had his head up in the stands. He was really enjoying himself, as he should. I’m sure it was a great win for him.”
The Phillies are 9-6 since Sandberg took over for Charlie Manuel, who got fired after leading the organization to five division titles and winning a 2008 World Series ring. But they are 62-73 with an aging core of players and feel like they need a new voice.
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Phillies infielder Kevin Frandsen – who spent parts of the last two seasons with Sandberg at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and chipped in with a triple and a home run in Friday’s win – hopes the interim manager keeps the job.
“For being a Hall of Famer, he truly understands what it means to struggle,” Frandsen said, “to know how to work to get out of it, to play for your teammates. And that’s his managing style. You can just see it. Everything has to do with being there for each other.
“Everyone talks about: ‘He’s not vocal.’ He’s vocal enough with us. He has a way about him, to say the things that he needs to say. He’s not afraid to approach you. He demands that you play the game hard and play it right.”
So, is this just another win for you or something special?
“It’s a good one to have,” Sandberg said. “Five-to-nothing out of the chute, the guys battled back. Good energy…any time you rally to come back like that, it goes a long way with the guys. We’re on the road for a couple more games, so it’s also good for that. But, yeah, extra special.”