Vintage Ryne

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryne Sandberg acknowledges fans after first win as a major league manager.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryne Sandberg acknowledges fans after first win as a major league manager.
Posted: August 20, 2013

IN A DOZEN years of pro ball, Erik Kratz had never seen this happen before. Not in Medicine Hat or Manchester or New Haven or Indianapolis.

He had caught from Canada to Connecticut, but Kratz, 33, had never seen his manager sitting in the bullpen watching a pitcher get in his work 2 days after his previous start. Managers just don't spend an extra half-hour under a midday summer sun . . . especially managers who made millions in a Hall of Fame career.

But that's what former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg did every day in 2011 and '12, when Kratz played for him at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

It's also what Sandberg did at Class A Peoria, Ill., and at Double A Kodak, Tenn., and at Triple A Des Moines, as he climbed through the Cubs system.

"I did that from Day 1, managing in the minor leagues. To get to know the pitchers, but also to get a little education about what pitching's all about. So I know what that pitcher's trying to do in the game," Sandberg said.

"I knew the defense and hitting side of baseball, but I wanted to get a feel of what the pitchers and catchers worked on. And even their verbiage, so when I would communicate with a pitcher I'd be on the same page, and be able to talk the language they're used to hearing."

This, from an idol who played in a baseball-crazed city; this, from the man anointed Charlie Manuel's successor the day he was hired as the IronPigs' manager in November 2010. He didn't have to work this hard, but did. He craved it.

"He'd just sit there and watch," Kratz said. "If I'd be catching a session, he would bounce stuff off me. His ego is just out of it. It's something I've never seen."

It's something Kratz will continue to see as Sandberg guides this hapless, $170 million assemblage of minor leaguers and uninterested veterans through the Phillies' last 42 games of 2013.

It is part of what qualifies Sandberg to be the man to manage the team for the next two seasons, regardless of how it plays down this barren stretch.

On Friday, when general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. fired Manuel and promoted Sandberg from third-base coach to manager, Amaro stated that this would be, to some degree, a tryout for Sandberg:

"It gives us an opportunity to see what we have in Ryne Sandberg."

Balderdash.

A full offseason with input into club composition and a full season with a relatively healthy roster will give the Phillies an opportunity to see what they have in Sandberg. He has been in the organization for nearly 3 years. They might not be sure about Jake Diekman and Darin Ruf, but they know what they have in Ryne Sandberg.

The Phillies should remove the "interim" tag, sign Sandberg through 2015, be done with it.

They have clear, 2-year windows with Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee. Give Sandberg the same window. Simplify things.

Amaro cannot expect Sandberg to shake any measure of competence or focus from a roster outclassed by nearly every team it faces.

It took that roster 21 2/3 innings to score its first run for Sandberg. That roster committed five errors in its first three games for Sandberg. That roster needed two ninth-inning errors by Dodgers "shortstop" Hanley Ramirez to win its second game in 10 days.

The Phillies' roster is beyond reclamation.

It continues to play without $40 million of its payroll, nearly 25 percent of the total; and even if Roy Halladay or Ryan Howard return from their injuries this season, they will not play to their contracts' value. It continues to feature the worst bullpen of any National League team that was expected to contend this season.

Of the 42 games Sandberg will manage, 20 are against teams with postseason aspirations, so they will be playing hard, with all hands. Also, 17 of them are on the road. The Phils are the league's second-worst road team.

Asked if he thought it was fair to use the last 6 weeks to determine his fitness as manager, Sandberg demurred, and hedged. He allowed that, while wins are one gauge, competitiveness and improvement should be weighed as well.

Perhaps the Phillies are hoping Philly guy Mike Scioscia gets fired in Anaheim after failing to win the past two seasons when his stars were hurt. Oh, wait; the Phillies just fired the best manager in their history for that very reason.

In his praise of Sandberg, Kratz made clear that he meant no disrespect to any of his other managers - not to Rolando Pino in Alberta; Omar Malave in Dunedin; Mike Basso in Syracuse; or certainly, not to Manuel, for whom Kratz played parts of the last four seasons.

Pino and Malave and Basso and Manuel don't have a plaque in Cooperstown. Ryno could have cruised. Instead, as usual, Ryno worked.

Sandberg's inclusive, symbiotic methodology and his passion for work recalls the management style of another Phillie in the Hall of Fame: front-office adviser Pat Gillick, who, as general manager, constructed the 2008 world champions by listening and learning. Like Sandberg in the bullpen.

"He'd say, 'Oh, OK. I didn't see that,' " Kratz said. "Or, 'Hey, what do you think about this?' It was amazing. I was definitely surprised. I've met a few Hall of Famers. His self-effacement - he's very down to earth. In no way does he promote himself. He didn't think he was better than anybody."

Said Phillies utility infielder Kevin Frandsen: "Most people who have met a Hall of Famer will tell you they love to talk about themselves. He doesn't."

Frandsen was an IronPig for both of Sandberg's seasons, Frandsen's seventh and eighth seasons at that level, where hotshot kids and bitter veterans often play selfishly.

"They can be [ticked] off at times. He got those guys to play for each other," Frandsen said. "Those were the only times in Triple A baseball I've ever seen that."

And, now, Sandberg has a major league win.

"This is a tremendous day for him," Frandsen said. "It's something he really earned."

Sandberg is the only Hall of Fame player to manage in the International League in its 129-year history. He is a rare Hall of Fame player hired as a major league manager after his enshrinement, having worked his way through the ranks.

He was Minor League Manager of the Year in 2011 at Lehigh Valley, and with the Cubs organization was the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2010. Sandberg could be Manager of the Year in the National League, too. He should at least be guaranteed a chance.

Certainly, he won't fail for lack of effort:

"I'll go to the batting cages, too, watch the hitting coaches, give input if needed. Then, of course, there's the on-the-field stuff," Sandberg said. "I'm not one for sitting in my office. I like to go where the action is."


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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