Ryne Sandberg, get ready because your time is now. By normal standards, Sandberg is still “paying his dues.” He has only been managing for five seasons after nearly a decade away from the grind of a full season. Granted, being a spring-training instructor gives you a taste of what it’s like to coach, but it’s no comparison to facing the day-in and day-out highs and lows of 140 to 160+ games per season. However, it should come as no surprise that one of the greatest ever is primed to be a major league manager.
For most Hall of Famers, it would be difficult to teach. We’ve seen the flops of Ted Williams types, but this is different.
Quick fun fact: Walter Johnson’s .550 winning percentage is the highest by a Hall of Fame player who also managed. Now back to my point.
Sandberg has proven his commitment and resolve. He took a job in 2006, had success and struggled mightily the next season. Just a few short years later, in 2010, he won Manager of the Year after the triple-A Iowa Cubs saw a 10-game swing from the previous season. Need more facts? After the Chicago Cubs burnt Sandberg by hiring Mike Quade as their manager, Sandberg took off for the Leigh High Valley Iron Pigs and the triple-A Cubs lost 15 more games than the previous season. The Iron Pigs, meanwhile, won 22 more games than the previous season and lost in the Governor’s Cup Finals.
Franchises looking for a new face and winning track record need look no further! Please don’t give me the argument about winning in the majors either. With little to no talent around you, you can’t win; no matter how good you are. Are we talking about Phil Rizzuto with the same revere if he isn’t on those monstrous Yankees teams?
Let’s go inside the numbers for the Iron Pigs and see what Sandberg did to turn the team around in his first year there. The Iron Pigs were up in AVG, HR, OBP, RS and SB. They were down in K, DP, ERA and RA. Not to mention the defensive presence he brings as a Gold Glover.
With that settled, let’s look at the possible destinations with current vacancies: Boston and St. Louis. The Cardinals are coming off a World Series title with a lot of uncertainty. The $300 million dollar question is: What is Albert Pujols going to do? Can the Cardinals do enough monetarily and in the clubhouse to keep him? I don’t know the answer to that question, but the safe bet is yes. Pujols will have a large hand in deciding who Tony La Russa’s successor will be. How weird would it be to see Sandberg in a Cardinals uniform? It could happen. With a mix of veterans and young players, Sandberg can be the answer. His time in the minors has proven he can work with developing players, while his pedigree demands respect.
Boston is intriguing on many levels. They proved before that they are willing to take a chance on a manager. I live in Philadelphia, and let me tell you, the backlash after Terry Francona was hired by the Red Sox was incredible. Everyone, including me, thought they just doomed themselves to a guaranteed decade of losing. Whoops! Again, Sandberg’s track record can command the respect needed. His style is laid back, much like Francona’s, but from what I gathered, he is a bit more intense because of his gritty play. Sound like a current second baseman for the Red Sox? Aside from the rumors swirling around the clubhouse and an authoritarian figure potentially needed to fix it, the Red Sox have a storied history. Sandberg is no stranger to that. He even understands the “woe is me” mentality. Could you see a better story than a former Cub leading the Red Sox to a pennant? The end of days would soon follow, but the media would gush until the Four Horseman rode (not the ones from the WCW; the scary ones that nuns told me about in school).
Let’s have some fun here. We’ve seen this pattern a million times: A new management comes in and they want to stamp their product. Who’s the first to go? The manager of course! Do you know who does have new management? Well, yes, the San Diego Padres and the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim, but guess who else? The Chicago Cubs! Quade is currently under contract at a reasonable price for one more season and with a club option for the next. He is the only real hurdle between Sandberg and the Cubs job. Now, will Theo Epstein want the fanfare and pressure of having Sandberg as the manager? That’s tricky because he is beloved and, frankly, this franchise isn’t used to winning. So, losing might be tolerated for an extended period to see “Ryno” back at Waveland and Addison.
Epstein is a guy who wants to win, so that could be an interesting dynamic. However, with Sandberg being a life-long Cub (one year removed from the organization managerially), having knowledge of the homegrown products now making their way to the big leagues and a proven record, why not give it a shot? The previous regime blew it when they didn’t hire Sandberg. Correct your mistake and hire this man! And if Epstein really wants to get nuts, make a run at Pujols, steal the Cardinals heart, endear your fans and take this franchise from rags to riches. Clearly, it’s a grandiose dream. Will Pujols play on a young, sub-par team? Who knows? But if there is a guy that can gel the pieces, it’s Sandberg and Epstein.
Now, let me ask you: Where do you think Sandberg will be at the start of next season?