Sam Donnellon: On Juan Castillo and Ryne Sandberg

Todd Bowles, who replaced Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator, could be head coach in waiting.
Todd Bowles, who replaced Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator, could be head coach in waiting. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 23, 2012

WHEN I WAS hired at this place, way back in 1992, the sports editor painted me a rosy picture. I could write features for a while, cover baseball for a while, and when the columnist nearing retirement age got there, why I could slip right into that spot if I showed the right stuff.

I wound up earning the position, which is the way you want get a job anyway.

Last month, I got a call from the local sportstalk station, WIP, which said it had lost its pooh-bah, or at least it thought it had, and would I like to try the gig. I said sure, what the hey, but after a few weeks someone asked (begged?) someone for the original pooh-bah to come back, and I went back to radio nowhere.

There are two morals to these stories, two morals that have particularly relevance given the events of the last couple of weeks.

One is that you would rather earn the job than get it out of default, the way Juan Castillo did.

The other is beware the presumed promotion . . . Ahem, Ryne Sandberg.

To my knowledge, Charlie Manuel has not declared that 2013 will be his last season as a major league manager. Since he will be 70 by Opening Day 2014, it is presumed that he will nobly step down and that Sandberg will take his place. But what if Charlie and the Phillies have a rebound season, are sitting in first place in September, and Chuck says he's feeling pretty good and would like to give at another whirl? Or what if that doesn't happen and he just says he would like to still manage?

"We've made no promises to Ryne Sandberg," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said when he promoted the most popular manager in IronPigs history to Phillies third-base coach a few days after the season ended.

More to the point, they haven't made any promises to their winningest manager ever, to a guy who managed the team to five consecutive division titles before this season's injury-filled, deadline-trade mess. And even then, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay injured and not themselves . . . with Cliff Lee winless and luckless for much of the season . . . with Michael Stutes injured and Antonio Bastardo AWOL for much of it and Chad Qualls so, so past his expiration date . . . with Vance Worley hurt, too, and Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence traded at the deadline and Joe Blanton soon after it . . . the Phillies played themselves into a meaningful September before hitting their Alamo in Houston.

As poor as the hitting and pitching was, the Phillies still would have reached the postseason with a dependable eighth-inning guy. But forget all that. It was Charlie's fault.

Instead of announcing Sandberg would take over in 2014, this is how Amaro couched it that day: "One of the things I think makes an organization stronger, frankly, is being able to hire people that may eventually take our jobs. I hope there are people here that we've hired in our front office, that when I'm let go or I move on, they're able to do that.

"That's one of the beauties of hiring strong people. Give them opportunities to grow."

Or fall on their swords if you've overestimated them, as Castillo did last week. Like Manuel, Reid has done a lot with a little, especially over the second part of his 13 1/2 seasons as head coach here, and particularly since losing the late Jim Johnson as his defensive coordinator.

Unlike Manuel, a lot of the little traces back to Reid's own personnel decisions. Drafting Danny Watkins, signing Demetress Bell, falling in love with Michael Vick and jettisoning Kevin Kolb are just part of a long list of player-personnel misfires. Take a look at his 2011 draft if you're not afraid of going blind from it.

Sean McDermott, considered a great young defensive mind under Johnson, turned out to be just young. Castillo, known to work long hours, was done in by his work in the closing minutes.

Now his replacement, Todd Bowles, is in a similar spot to the one Sandberg is in. Regarded as head-coaching material soon, somewhere, Bowles' job is to make this defense play well enough to protect those late leads and win those tight games and get the Eagles into the postseason.

And if he does? Does he save the head coach's job and force him into looking for his own head-coaching job somewhere else?

And if he doesn't? Well, is that the guy you hire to replace the winningest and longest-tenured coach in Eagles history? Is Todd Bowles the guy who will make you forget all about Andy Reid, or make you appreciate him more?

Damned if I know. I'm no pooh-bah.

At least not anymore.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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