Will Ryne Sandberg return to big leagues with Phillies?

Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg "works hard at it," Phillies assistant GM Benny Looper said.
Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg "works hard at it," Phillies assistant GM Benny Looper said. (MIKE JANES / Four Seam Images)
Posted: August 18, 2012

Ryne Sandberg is ready to return to the big leagues.

"Oh, I'm ready," the Hall of Fame second baseman said last week as he sat in the dugout at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown. "In my mind, I'm ready for a major-league opportunity."

Good luck trying to find somebody who does not agree.

Sandberg has spent six seasons as a minor-league manager, including the last two with the Phillies' triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliate, and the time has come for him to take the next step.

You won't hear Sandberg say that.

"I think that's for somebody else to make that decision," he said. "I think that's baseball's decision and somebody else's decision."

It is a decision the Phillies must make soon, and all indications are that they will find a way to get Sandberg on their major-league coaching staff next season, with the possibility that he could succeed Charlie Manuel as the team's manager as soon as 2014. Manuel's contract expires after next season.

These are always delicate situations, because you are talking about the livelihood of other men. Sandberg, who will turn 53 in September, can become part of the Phillies' coaching staff only at the expense of somebody else's job.

That does not change the fact that the Phillies believe Sandberg is ready for a job in the big leagues.

"Ryne has a tremendous amount of respect from not only myself but from everybody in the organization," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said. "He works hard at it. The players play hard for him. They respond to him. He doesn't put up with any crap, and he has control of the club."

The Phillies, of course, allowed Sandberg to get away as a player when they traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 1982, and they would prefer that history not repeat itself.

"We don't want to lose him," Looper said. "He's too good of a baseball guy. But I wouldn't want to hold him back. He deserves the opportunity to be in the major leagues, and hopefully we can keep him here long enough where we can get him to the major leagues with us."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. agrees that it's time for Sandberg to be in the major leagues.

"Clearly, he's done a very good job," Amaro said. "I thought last year he was going to get a chance to be a major-league manager, but unfortunately for him and fortunately for us, he didn't get that job [with the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals]. We'll see what happens in the future, but we view him as a guy we'd like to have here in the future in some type of capacity."

The most ringing endorsements for Sandberg's big-league future come from the men who played for him the last two seasons at Lehigh Valley and now are working for the Phillies.

"Confidently professional" is how Phillies catcher Erik Kratz describes his former manager. "He thinks he was just a regular player who just grinded it out and tried harder than everybody else, and it just so happens he ended up in the Hall of Fame."

Told of Kratz's description, Sandberg smiled.

"I was," he said. "That's true. I felt like I was an average player. I was told when I won the MVP in 1984 that Pete Rose said, 'This guy did not necessarily have the best tools, but he outworked everybody else.' I think that hit the nail on the head then. That's what I did, and that's what I have always done. That's what I continue to do."

Being able to do something and being able to teach it are two very different skills. Despite his Hall of Fame credentials, Sandberg had to prove that he could get his message across to players. Kratz, 32, had six hits in 11 big-league games before this season but has a chance to become the Phillies' backup catcher next season. He said Sandberg played a huge role in his unlikely career ascent at such a late age, mostly because the manager has instilled a higher level of confidence.

"The one story that sticks out in my mind is that we were down by a run in Scranton and their closer was pitching," Kratz said. "The guy in front of me hit a double, and it was a perfect situation to bunt the guy over and get the next guy up. I wasn't hitting fourth or fifth at the time. I think I was hitting eighth or ninth.

"I was expecting him to call me down to hear him say, 'Hey, you comfortable bunting?' He didn't say that. He said, 'You're going to swing to win the game. You're going to swing to win the game.' He repeated it one more time. The first pitch, it was out and over the plate, and I hit it out for a homer. I'm going around the bases thinking, 'I thought he'd want me to bunt.' Instead, he was 100 percent locked in to what he wanted me to do, and he was sure I was going to do it."

Kevin Frandsen is another Sandberg believer, perhaps even more so than Kratz. In fact, the infielder admits to being openly angry when the Cubs and Cardinals passed on a chance to hire Sandberg last offseason. It was the second year in a row the Cubs had passed on the man who was the face of their organization throughout the 1980s.

"It ticks me off that some teams didn't give him that chance to interview for a job," Frandsen said. "I'm so grateful for what he gave me as far as an opportunity to play every day the last two years. I just know his style and his ways would be great at the next level."

Frandsen admits to being biased.

"All the guys joke with me that he is like my dad," Frandsen said.

This, too, draws a smile from Sandberg.

"Well, I get attached to the players," he said. "I'm for the players, and I'm here for them. Maybe that's the feedback they feel. They know that I'm on their side and I have their back and I'm going to do what I have to do for them and for the team. I put the team first.

"Erik Kratz and Frandsen, those are two guys who took to that, and then they were guys who were team leaders with the same message I had for them. It got to the point where I didn't have to do all the things all the time. They would handle things. That's when it is as good as it gets - when the team gets it and starts doing things themselves."

Sandberg's biggest project and prospect at Lehigh Valley has been Domonic Brown, and he, too, is sold on his former manager's attributes.

"He's first-class, absolutely first-class," Brown said. "He's about working hard and preparing before the game. That part was amazing with Ryno. When you watch him, you could really understand why the guy was a Hall of Famer."

Now, the time is quickly approaching for Sandberg to move to the next level in his second baseball life, and it is the Phillies who are likely to make that happen.

"One of my goals is to be at the major-league level, and right now the Phillies are close to my heart as far as having this opportunity and going back to the place where they originally drafted me," Sandberg said. "I enjoy the organization and the people I've been around the last two years. There are a lot of familiar faces going to way back when. In a lot of ways, it would be the ultimate to get that chance here."


Sandberg's Record

Here is a look at Ryne Sandberg's minor-league managerial record:

2007: Peoria,

A Midwest, Chicago Cubs 71-68, seventh place.

2008: Peoria,

A Midwest, Chicago Cubs 60-78,12th.

2009: Tennessee, AA Southern, Chicago Cubs, 71-69, third.

2010: Iowa, AAA Pacific Coast, Chicago Cubs, 82-62, t-first.

2011: Lehigh Valley, AAA International, Phillies, 80-64, fourth.

2012: Lehigh Valley, AAA International, Phillies, 68-59, third. ( Through Thursday's games.)

- Bob Brookover

 


Contact Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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