The last time a Hall of Fame player was in the dugout as a manager was in 2006, when Frank Robinson led the Washington Nationals.
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That is until Aug. 16, when the Philadelphia Phillies gave Ryne Sandberg an opportunity to audition for the job on a fulltime basis.
But generally, the guys who are managers — especially today — were not considered to be great players.
Of the other 29 managers currently in the majors, seven were All-Stars (Don Mattingly six times, Davey Johnson four, Dusty Baker two, Mike Scioscia two, Robin Ventura two, Joe Girardi and Walt Weiss). Kirk Gibson, now manager of the Arizona Diamonbacks, was the Most Valuable Player of the National League in 1988, but was never an All-Star, and Weiss was American League Rookie of the Year, coincidentally also in 1988.
Five current managers never made it to the big leagues as players — Terry Collins played 10 minor-league seasons, Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter seven each, Fredi Gonzalez six and Joe Maddon four.
The big-league playing records of the guys who currently manage runs the gamut from guys who were pretty good to guys who were barely fringe players. Their stats are below, in order of games played.
San Diego Padres manager Bud Black and Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell don’t appear on the list because they are the only former pitchers of the group.
Black pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues (1981-95) and was 121-116 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.267 WHIP in 398 career games and 2,053.1 innings. He made 296 starts.
Farrell had eight seasons (1987-90, 1993-96) and was 36-46 with a 4.56 ERA and 1.406 WHIP in 116 career games and 698.2 innings. He started 109 games.
So what does all of that have to do with Hall of Famers and their success as managers? Nothing, except to illustrate that — at least based on the game’s history — Sandberg has an uphill climb ahead of him.
Here are the records of Hall of Fame players as managers since World War II (records before World War II included where applicable):
|Ted Lyons||1946-48||White Sox||185||245||.430|
|Larry Doby||1978||White Sox||37||50||.425|
|Luke Appling||1967||Kansas City||10||30||.250|
Of that group, Schoendienst, Berra and Lemon were the only ones to win pennants strictly as managers; Cronin, Boudreau, Frisch and Hornsby all achieved their most success as managers when they were still active as players.
There is one factor that weighs in Sandberg’s favor, however.
Sandberg spent six years — at Class A Peoria in 2007-08, Double-A Tennessee in 2009, triple-A Iowa in 2010 and triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2011-12 — honing his craft in the minor leagues.
Of the managers on the list above, only Lemon, Gordon and Appling spent time managing in the minors before getting their first opportunity at the big-league level.
Lemon spent three years as a triple-A skipper (two in Seattle and one in Vancouver) before getting the Kansas City Royals job in 1970. Gordon had four years in a triple-A dugout (two in Sacramento and two more in San Francisco) before getting the Cleveland Indians gig in 1958, and Appling had seven years in the minors (four in two stints at Double-A Memphis, two at Triple-A Richmond and one at Triple-A Indianapolis) before getting his lone major-league opportunity with the lame-duck Kansas City Athletics in 1967.
Sandberg took two of his teams to the postseason as a minor-league manager and only finished below .500 once in his six seasons in the bushes.
He’s getting a 42-game audition with the Phillies, an aging team that has been riddled by injuries in 2013, but he’s 17-13 through the first 30 of those games. He’s keeping the Phillies competitive and playing hard down the stretch, even with nothing to play for but pride.
He paid his dues and he’s not being given the opportunity to manage simply because he was a great player who will sell some tickets. If any Hall of Fame player has a chance to work out well as a skipper, it’s Sandberg.