Sandberg waited a long time for chance

"As long as there's a baseball game, it's meaningful. That'll be the message," said Ryne Sandberg (left), greeted by Chase Utley before his first game as manager.
"As long as there's a baseball game, it's meaningful. That'll be the message," said Ryne Sandberg (left), greeted by Chase Utley before his first game as manager. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 19, 2013

The Chicago Cubs finished the 2010 season in need of a future and also in need of a manager. During the course of the long and usually futile history of the franchise, this was not a rare exacta, but it was one that general manager Jim Hendry had to address.

Lou Piniella, having assessed the bleak prospects, quit as manager in late August and the Cubs shuffled third-base coach Mike Quade into the manager's office on an interim basis. There was little expectation Quade would keep the job, but, again, the team and its fans don't usually lead the league in expectations.

Fortunately for the Cubs, or so it would seem from the outside, there was not only a handy solution to the situation, but one that would energize the team's supporters and bring back memories of, if not necessarily better times, at least better players.

The Cubs were lucky enough to have a franchise icon, a wildly popular Hall of Fame player, serving as their triple-A manager, and one about to be named the Pacific Coast League manager of the year. It was a guy who, despite his fame, got back on the bush league buses to work his way up the managing ladder and had put in two seasons at single A and one season at double A before leading Iowa to an 82-62 record in 2010.

That meant, if he was hired as manager of the Cubs, he would know the strengths and weaknesses, and already have a relationship with, almost all of the young players the farm system would send his way as the rebuilding took place. A struggling organization could hardly ask for a more perfect solution.

So, why didn't the Chicago Cubs hire Ryne Sandberg after the 2010 season?

It's a great question, and one that is worth asking now that the Phillies have fired Charlie Manuel and replaced him with Sandberg. Welcome to big-league managing, Ryne. What took you so long?

Just like Quade back in 2010, Sandberg has the job on an interim basis, with nothing guaranteed past the end of the season. Just like Quade, he vacated the third-base coaching box to take the job and said he hopes to lead the team to a strong finish.

The Cubs responded to Quade - or to the absence of the grumpy Piniella - and won 24 of their last 37 games, allowing Hendry to ignore the groundswell for Sandberg and bring back Quade for 2011. When the team finished 20 games under .500 that season, new general manager Theo Epstein fired Quade, leading to a renewed groundswell to lift Sandberg from his new post in Lehigh Valley. Epstein quickly said he would consider only candidates with previous major-league experience and hired current manager Dale Sveum.

Sandberg has the opportunity to show that the Cubs messed up twice, but he'll have to kickstart a team that has been dead in the water since the all-star break. In order to earn the job for next season, he will have to get the Phillies playing as if they are interested in the games again. It won't be an easy task, but he waited a long time for this chance.

"As long as there's a baseball game, it's meaningful. That'll be the message," Sandberg said. "I'm consistent with the daily approach as far as making sure the players are ready to play a baseball game. Communication is number one for me."

What Sandberg possesses in consistency and communication, however, he lacks a little in excitement. His personality is low-key to the point of being slightly drab, and many who have studied the Cubs' reluctance to hire him say that was one of the factors. Behind the scenes, but for public consumption, the Cubs always explained that they didn't want to be in the unpleasant public relations position of firing a franchise legend. What they never said was why they were convinced they would have to eventually.

Not that it matters now. Judging what should be done in a baseball organization by what the Cubs do is never a good idea, anyway. You don't have to be Nathan Hale or a standup comic or Sgt. Rock to succeed as a baseball manager. It takes all kinds.

After almost nine years of having a folksy uncle in that chair, the Phillies are trying something different. They are trying the guy who makes the most sense for the job, and that's usually the best way to go.

Of course, Ryne Sandberg has made the most sense before, too.

Contact Bob Ford at Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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