Anyone hoping to hear “Ryne Sandberg Unplugged” or see any “Curb Your Enthusiasm” awkward moments would go home disappointed, maybe because Ryno wound up with a better job.
The Philadelphia Phillies are a flawed team, but they still have that World Series pedigree, a legitimate big-market payroll and a go-for-it ownership group/front office.
“It’s been living the dream all over again,” Sandberg said. “It’s full circle in a lot of ways.”
It’s hard to imagine the Phillies stripping down their big-league product the way the Cubs have the last several years. Even Sandberg couldn’t help but notice all the empty seats during Friday’s 6-5 comeback victory at Wrigley Field. Announced crowd: 27,763.
Sandberg spent almost 18 minutes with the Chicago media in the visiting dugout before the game, answering several warm-and-fuzzy questions about his Wrigley Field memories. He walked over toward the home dugout to do a sit-down interview with Phillies TV and shook hands with reliever Blake Parker, one of several players he managed during his four seasons in the Cubs system.
Do you feel any ill will toward the Cubs?
“No, the Cubs gave me a chance to start in Peoria,” Sandberg said. “They gave me an opportunity to manage in the minor leagues. I did it for four years and that’s gone a long way. Other than that, I understand how baseball works.”
Former general manager Jim Hendry wasn’t sold on Sandberg when Lou Piniella abruptly retired in August 2010. Mike Quade earned the job with a 24-13 finish but wasn’t the same guy during a disastrous 2011 season that saw a clubhouse tune-out and sweeping changes in the front office.
Did you get a fair shot after Piniella left?
“I mean…I was talked to, so, yeah, I guess I was,” Sandberg said.
During batting practice, Sandberg chatted with Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who got the job in November 2011 and has lost 179 games since then. Team president Theo Epstein publicly eliminated Sandberg from consideration from the moment he fired Quade.
How long will Chicago fans stay patient with an extreme rebuild?
“I don’t…I can’t speak on that,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg hugged Hall of Famer Billy Williams by the batting cage as Cubs board members Todd and Pete Ricketts moved over with Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin who ran with Mitt Romney in a failed presidential campaign that directly impacted the Wrigley Field renovations.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts later walked down onto the field to shake hands with Sandberg, who limited his ticket requests to 15 family members (five grandchildren).
Do you still follow the Cubs?
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“I pretty much focus on what I’m doing here,” Sandberg said. “Every now and then I see if something pops out. I check on players that I had, things like that.”
The Phillies have a knockout one-two punch in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation, an emerging middle-of-the-order star in Domonic Brown and an eccentric/dominant closer named Jonathan Papelbon. The contract with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia expires after the 2015 season and the Phillies will be cashing in with a monster new television deal.
If Sandberg rips off the interim label and keeps this job, he won’t be stuck in the kind of hopeless situation that gets first-time managers fired.
“For sure, he’s got the structure behind him,” Phillies infielder Kevin Frandsen said. “Sometimes it’s a lose-lose situation. But I feel like it’s a win-win situation here because you got a manager that has so many credentials and a lot of big-time players.”
It’s impossible to imagine any manager winning on the North Side when the major-league payroll goes from around $145 million in 2010 and gets slashed to about $100 million by Opening Day this season. But Frandsen – who played for Sandberg during two seasons at Triple-A Lehigh Valley – believes the manager could be a difference-maker.
“I really feel like it would change a lot of things here, just from seeing a different style of play, but that wasn’t management’s decision,” Frandsen said. “They felt like they needed to go a different way with it. Ryno did his normal thing, said ‘Thank you, I’m going to move on because I know I can do it.’ And look where he is now.”
The 20th-round pick who grew up to be a Hall of Famer – the September call-up who wasn’t sure he belonged with the 1981 Phillies – thinks things happen for a reason.
“I’ve always had that attitude,” Sandberg said. “There was no other path than starting where I did – at the bottom, working my way up. But I did that before when I was 18 years old. And to do it again was perfect for me. I didn’t want to come here and have the opportunity that I have now and not be prepared.”