Sandberg signs three-year deal to manage Phillies

Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay signs autographs for fans before Sunday's game against New York. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay signs autographs for fans before Sunday's game against New York. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 24, 2013

Jimmy Rollins submerged his body in a hot tub Sunday morning to prepare for the Phillies' 155th game. His teammates were instructed to appear in the clubhouse. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. escorted Ryne Sandberg into the room and introduced him as the franchise's 52d manager. His players said, "I see you," to repeat a Sandberg refrain used for compliments.

"I was kind of upset," Rollins said. "He pulled me out of the hot tub for that. It wasn't news to me."

The shortstop smiled. Sandberg's tenure as interim manager lasted 37 days, and a three-year contract, made official Sunday, surprised no one. Sandberg achieved baseball immortality in Cooperstown eight years ago, but this was a moment forged on minor-league bus rides and major-league rejections.

The 54-year-old Hall of Famer commenced his regime with seven words.

"Well," he said, "I'm ecstatic, to say the least."

Amaro said there was "extraordinary" energy when Sandberg faced his players. Grown men hugged when the news was relayed to his coaches moments earlier. "Atta boy, Skip," one said. There is a club option in Sandberg's contract for a fourth season in 2017. Everyone spoke with limitless enthusiasm.

"He brings a positive energy every single day," Rollins said.

"Easy to play for," Cliff Lee said. "You couldn't ask for anything more out of a manager."

"He brings a lot to the table," Chase Utley said.

Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel, the Phillies' winningest manager, on Aug. 16. Speculation about being Manuel's eventual successor started the day he was hired to manage triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2011.

He yearned for the job. Sandberg spent six seasons as a minor-league manager. He interviewed in 2011 with the Chicago Cubs, the team that employed him as a player for 15 seasons, and was bypassed for the job. The St. Louis Cardinals briefly considered him that same winter. Baseball people wondered why a person of his stature had to wait so long for his appointment.

"In a lot of ways, it's a dream job," Sandberg said. "It's a dream come true."

Sandberg was 18-16 as interim manager. His players welcomed a regimented pregame routine and lauded Sandberg's passion for preparation. Most important, they did not see a legendary former player unable to relate to the modern athlete - a criticism of so many Hall of Famers who attempted to coach.

Amaro cited enough evidence in the early moments of Sandberg's tenure to render a search unnecessary.

"It was very, very clear to me, right from the get-go, the way he handled the transition during a very, very difficult period in having to take over for an icon of sorts in our Phillies history in Charlie," Amaro said. "It was very, very difficult circumstances, and I think he handled it very, very well. I think he handled the players well, the clubhouse very well. We kind of gave him free rein of what he needed to do, and I really liked the instincts of how he handled things."

The Phillies must hire a coaching staff, and Sandberg could initiate change there. Some of those decisions will be reached by Sunday's season finale. The roster, littered with holes after the franchise's first losing season since 2002, is a puzzle that requires more thought.

This was a day to celebrate a new era. Sandberg sat in his seat, scanned the room, and smiled wide. He saw his wife, Margaret, who beamed from the front row of the news conference. A gaggle of excited Phillies officials dotted the back of the room before the final home game in a disappointing season.

"I think," Sandberg said, "there's been a very large weight lifted off me."

Margaret rose to greet her husband when the questions ceased. She kissed him at 11:49 a.m. Four minutes earlier, the Phillies stretched on the field without their new manager. The schedule proceeded, just as Sandberg intended it.


BY THE NUMBERS

.285

Ryne Sandberg's career average in 15 Hall of Fame seasons with the Cubs.

.167

His average in 13 games as a 21-year-old with the 1981 Phillies.

9

All-Star Game appearances.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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