A View From Studio 3: Sandberg comes full circle
Former Cubs great returns to Wrigley Field as interim manager of Phillies
When Ryne Sandberg was named interim manager of the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this month, I was tempted to dig out a box of old baseball cards to refresh my memory on Sandberg's Hall of Fame career. Then I realized that was way too labor intensive and Google was at my fingertips.
I had no recollection that Sandberg played in only 13 games for the Phillies in 1981 before a winter trade to the Cubs. Time has a way of erasing trivial facts from one's personal hard drive. But three decades does not erase the impact of the deal that landed Sandberg and Phillies icon Larry Bowa in Chicago. Ivan De Jesus was sent to Philadelphia in return.
Bowa was the savvy, gritty veteran with a World Series ring. Sandberg was the young whippersnapper. An up-and-comer. A fantastic athlete who, according to Bowa, could have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career if he had played in center field. Or maybe even third base. The former high school football star from Spokane, Wash., was that gifted an athlete.
And over the next decade and half, the second baseman never wore a uniform other than a Cubs uniform. In the process he became one of the most popular and successful Cubs players in history. He led the team to two playoff appearances in the 1980s. Both times, Chicago fell short of a World Series appearance. But that's another story many have told over the last century.
On Friday, expect a warm ovation for No. 23 when he returns to Wrigley Field for the first time as the manager for Philadelphia. Despite managing in the Minors for the Cubs and going above and beyond the call of duty, he was never given the opportunity to interview for the vacant Cubs job a few years back.
Think about that. Never even interviewed.
Sandberg takes the high road.
"When I started this seven years ago and going to A-ball to manage because that was the job that was offered, my goal was to get back to the Major Leagues in some capacity -- maybe one day have a chance to manage in the Major Leagues."
He got that chance when Charlie Manuel's tenure in Philly came to an end amid a disappointing season.
Sandberg acknowledged the opportunity given to him by the Cubs to manage in the Minors and adds that he's content right now as the interim skipper for the Phillies.
"As far as anything that happened the way things didn't go -- you look around and you see that all over baseball," Sandberg said.
What you don't see all over baseball is a 50-something Hall of Famer riding buses around the country and eating fast food while attempting to learn new skills. Then again, doing it the right way with high expectations has always been Sandberg's way.
Bowa recalls a story that took place in 1982 when Sandberg was in an horrific slump. The second baseman came back to the dugout after making another out on a hard-hit ball. Bowa said to Sandberg, "Way to swing it" and Sandberg snapped, "I don't play that. I'd rather swing it bad and get a hit than swing it good and make an out."
Sandberg eventually snapped out of the slump and recorded 2,386 hits in the Majors. But that wasn't enough. He wanted back in as a skipper. So he started from the bottom, learning how to manage 25 young men who all had the same dream -- to star in the big leagues like Sandberg did decades earlier.
Sandberg said that "it was the next best thing to playing as far as being in a game and the competition side of it, so competing for me on the bench is a big part of it."
He brings that spirit and edge to a Phillies team that appears to have needed a kick in the butt -- the same way he brought an attitude to the Cubs some 30 years ago. Sandberg says that even on the bench, his competitive juices flow once the game starts.
"I really like to pull for the players," he said. "I like the players to pull for each other. That energy on the bench often creates a positive vibe that reflects out on the field."
This weekend, the field will be Wrigley Field -- the same place Sandberg performed as an all-time great.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.