Let’s start with this: If Ryne Sandberg manages with the strategic brilliance of Tony La Russa, assesses talent like Bobby Cox and grows as beloved in the clubhouse as Joe Torre, well, this year’s Phillies might win 72 games. This is a bad team Sandberg directs, and even channeling Casey Stengel won’t put them in the playoffs.
But Sandberg is none of those Hall of Fame managers, and carries none of their attributes. So a poor team stands to be more wretched.
It says here 61 wins. And 101 losses.
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And come October, my Ouija Board tells me, when GM Ruben Amaro gets the Howie Roseman push upstairs, Sandberg will be thanked for his service and handed a plane ticket back to Spokane. It’s inevitable. His tenure – like everyone else going on with this fallen franchise – is just marking time in 2015.
I’ll concede that I liked Sandberg’s hiring back in 2013 (although I thought it graceless for the Phils not to let Charlie Manuel finish out the season). The Hall of Fame second baseman promised attention to detail and the tightening of a ship that was drifting under the weight of its declining veterans.
But who knew we were getting Captain Queeg? Sandberg opened 2014’s camp by alienating Jimmy Rollins. He proceeded to have personality clashes with veterans (Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard) and youngsters (David Buchanan, Dom Brown). In some cases, the players deserved heat for loafing or disrespecting the manager. But, overall, Sandberg showed himself a poor handler of major league egos – the exact strength that kept his predecessor around for almost nine years.
That’s one element of the job. Another is, well, actually managing the games. Once again, nothing that occurred in 2014 showed this skipper to be the person this franchise ought to grow with. Sandberg displayed a baffling inconsistency in his use of players – once benching Cody Ashe after a four-hit game, another time leaving Brown in the lineup for days after his loafing after a fly ball cost the Phils a game.
In other areas, Sandberg has been a by-the-book button pusher, offering little imagination. To be fair, his roster doesn’t lend itself to creative use. This season, the emphasis is on “small ball,” which mostly means giving away several of your 27 precious outs through sacrifice bunts. But, hey, that’s a personal gripe, plenty of respected baseball people espouse that strategic nonsense.
And so we’ll watch and wait. Sandberg admitted over the winter he needs to assert himself more. But speaking louder and saying the right things are two different entities. Take it from someone who’s spent two decades in talk radio.
In January, Amaro issued this strange semi-endorsement through Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet: “I think Ryno has the instinct to do it, but he’s got to do it. Just like I have to do my job, he has to do his job, and the coaching staff has to do their job, and the players have to do theirs.”
Sounds like a slogan for the season.