Ryne Sandberg was hired to manage the Phillies on Friday. The position is described as “interim”, however that is probably going to change to permanent during the offseason. The Phillies will keep their options open and see who is avaialable but Sandberg is a coaching star on the rise. After retirement from the game in 1997, Sandberg spent the next decade as a Cubs spring training instructor. In 2007, he decided it was time to take on his next endeavor in life and was named the manger of the Cubs class A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. While its a little heart breaking for me that Sandberg never got a chance to manage the team he played almost his entire career with, it was probably for the best as explained here.
I spent my entire childhood looking up to guys like Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston and Jody Davis. An entertaining group of players that just weren’t surrounded by enough guys to get the Cubs over the hump. I remember watching the 1987 season and seeing “Hawk” become the first MVP ever from a last place team. However, nobody ruled the 1980′s quite like Ryno. Atleast not in my eyes. Sandberg won 9 consecutive gold glove awards at second base from 1983-1991. He was a 10 time all star and put up the greatest fielding percentage ever among 2nd basemen(.989).
Despite the great numbers that Sandberg managed to put up throughout his career, he was basically a throw in from the Phillies in a 1982 trade with Ivan Dejesus going to Philadelphia. He was viewed as a fielding 2nd basemen with very little skills at the plate. He had shown himself to be in the minors a .260ish hitter with single digit home run power. Thank god for the baseball world that scouting reports and projections arent always right. Sandberg would go on to hit 282 career home runs, at the time it was the most in history by a 2nd basemen. The first time Cubs fans really knew what they had in Ryno came on June 23, 1984, the Ryne Sandberg game. He would go on to win the NL MVP award that season and lead the Cubs to postseason play for the first time in 39 years.
Ryne Sandberg would retire from the game of baseball early in the 1994 season. I remember waking up that day, just 15 years old and the player that I had idolized since as long as I could remember watching the game was quitting. I was devastated. I remember thinking, how do you quit in the middle of a season? How do you quit after being given the largest contract in baseball just 2 years earlier? He was only 4 years removed from a 40 HR season and he was a notoriously slow starter. I didnt know what to think about this. I understand now that he had bigger things going on personally and he needed that break. He was quoted as saying “The reason I retired is simple: I lost the desire that got me ready to play on an everyday basis for so many years. Without it, I didn’t think I could perform at the same level I had in the past, and I didn’t want to play at a level less than what was expected of me by my teammates, coaches, ownership, and most of all, myself.” And that was it, he was done.
Only, Ryno couldn’t stay away. He came back for 2 more seasons in 1996 and 1997. The fans were happy to welcome him back, at least I was. He most certainly wasnt the same player as in years past but it was still Ryno and he could do no wrong. After the 1997 season he would retire from the game for good.
In 2005 Ryne Sandberg would be inducted in to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I was elated as were Cub fans and Chicagoans in general. I looked up the dates for the election, called my buddy and we made plans to be in attendance for the speech. Unfortunately I didnt make it there. I watched on TV with great joy as Sandberg gave one of the most stirring speeches ever given at a HOF ceremony.
On August 28,2005, a day I will forever remember, I witnessed Sandbergs jersey retired at Wrigley Field. I sat in the right field bleachers, almost the identical spot I remember sitting in at my first Cubs game in 1985. I was in the second row, after waiting nearly 4 hours for the bleachers to be opened. I sat there and listened to the stories in awe, like a child again. Sandberg made his “final lap” around Wrigley Field and waved to everyone as he passed by, including a child-like me, who was really in my 20′s. Funny how sports can bring you back like that. Watching his flag rise along the right field foul pole just brought memories rushing back of Harry Caray and watching summertime day baseball with my grandmother and great grandmother. I dont even remember the final score from that day. I could look it up, but honestly it didn’t matter. The day could not be ruined, regardless.
Sandberg would choose to get back into baseball in 2007. This time as manager of the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs Class A affiliate at the time. He would work his way up the ranks managing the Class AA Smokies and the Triple A Iowa Cubs. After winning manager of the year in the Pacific Coast League in 2010, the Cubs job opened up. The front office however decided to go with interim manager Mike Quade. This was not a popular decision among Cub fans nor Sandberg himself who would leave the Cubs organization and take the Triple A job with the Phillies organization, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. He spent the last year as the Phillies 3rd base coach before being promoted to manager.
I wish Sandberg all the best in his managing opportunity in Philadelphia. I am not a Phillies fan but it will be really hard not to root for the guy I spent my life cheering for. He will make his first trip to Wrigley as manager later on this month. I look forward to that series and seeing the reception that the Cub faithful gives him. He might be wearing a Philly uniform, but we all know Ryno is a Cub for life. Best of luck to you Ryno, and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to have you again here someday.