Sandberg era officially begins

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg talks with instructor pitching coach Bob McClure (right).
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg talks with instructor pitching coach Bob McClure (right).
Posted: February 14, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The record shows 42 games of major league experience for Ryne Sandberg, Mgr., but the real beginning arrived yesterday. Yesterday, the coaches and the players were his, along with an authority over the future that he lacked during the interim between Charlie Manuel's firing on Aug. 16 and the end of the Phillies' dreadful 73-89 season. Around 9:30 a.m., the pitchers and catchers walked out into a brisk, chilly wind and began the process of turning the page.

"I think for the most part I feel prepared for it," Sandberg said as he sat in front of a gaggle of media members at Bright House Field. "I think last year, those first 42 games go a long way in that. I think it will go a long way with the players as far as what's expected and the way I do things. I'll be able to implement more things and build on those 42 games by creating a structure and a norm where the players know what's expected. I also like to stay on top of things and address them as they come up. I want the staff to be involved in that. I want to do this as a group and it's going to be a fun group to be around."

The word "structure" is a good place to start when talking about the differences between Sandberg and his predecessor. The conversation can feel uncomfortable at times because of its implication - the old guy was doing it wrong - but look at it this way: A hitter's choice of approach does not indicate a belief in the inferiority of hitters who choose differently. It is simply the manner in which he is most comfortable operating. That Sandberg finds his comfort in structure will not surprise anybody who knew him as a player.

"He comes across as pragmatic," said third-base coach Pete Mackanin, who managed in the Cubs' minor league system during Sandberg's playing days. "It's all about common sense, working hard, showing up on time. It's the old cliché, but that's how he is. Everybody talked about how focused Roy Halladay was, about his work ethic. That's what Ryno's all about."

Sandberg's 42-game stint as manager at the end of last season offered some evidence of his approach. He required players to arrive 45 minutes earlier than was customary under Manuel. He spoke openly of changes he wanted to see out of specific players, all of them sharing the common theme of efficiency, from the batter's box to the base paths to the field. At the same time, most of the important stuff has yet to be revealed, including whether any of it will make a difference. Did the Phillies of 2012 and 2013 lack the proper structure, or did they lack proper players? Were they hampered by substandard decisions, or were they hampered by substandard options?

Whatever the extent of Sandberg's domain happens to be, he will attempt to exert his control over it. He was an omnipresent figure throughout the offseason, scouting Phillies prospects in the Arizona Fall League, sitting in on the personnel sessions at the winter meetings, interviewing coaching candidates. A lot of these may have been the natural activities of a new manager familiarizing himself with the helm. But Sandberg has struck members of the organization - coaches, players, staffers - as a man who desires as much knowledge as possible about all precincts under his command, an impression he reinforced yesterday when asked about spending the winter looking forward to his first spring training as a manager.

"Winter? I didn't have a winter," he said. "It was covering a lot of things. It was experiencing new things. The coaching interviews was a learning process for me. I really enjoyed that. Learned a lot in different areas in the game from different people. A lot of things I picked up and actually put into play. Just hearing all the different ways to do things in their areas. Then just the anticipation of spring training. You finally have the action on the field after talking about it for quite a bit. It's fun to see the guys out there in uniforms. You look forward to the next day and the progression and see if the players get better. I want to see that on a weekly basis."

That progression - for the Phillies, and for their new manager - began yesterday.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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