Phillies Notebook: The book on Phillies manager Sandberg

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: April 01, 2014

ON DAY 1 OF CAMP, when all his pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders, coaches and other staff members were in the same room for the first time, Ryne Sandberg spoke.

He was anxious, not unlike a new kid on his first day of school, but he was excited, too.

A believer in team unity - when he took over for Charlie Manuel late last summer, Sandberg implemented a rule that everyone in uniform had to stand outside the dugout during the pregame national anthem - Sandberg had all of the new players in camp introduce themselves in the middle of the room. They each had to volunteer something about themselves.

When Sandberg took the room back over, he spoke about all of the things all managers speak about on Day 1. Expectations and his own philosophies, team rules and his belief in respecting the game.

"I was excited to see everybody and actually get started with the process of molding the guys together as a unit," Sandberg said.

Sandberg didn't once mention his own Hall of Fame career. He didn't have to.

"The aura is around him," bullpen coach Rod Nichols said.

Sandberg's dedication to excellence as a player has transferred over to the dedication he expects his players to bring to the ballpark every day.

Since few Hall of Fame players have gone on to have success as big-league managers - Frank Robinson is the only one of the last quarter century who comes to mind - there's a stigma that the best of the best can't relate to the average player. And that those Hall of Famers don't have success because of that talent gap.

But Sandberg's development into a Hall of Fame player might actually work to his advantage as a manager.

"I think a lot of times, people think if you're a really good player it's hard to coach that, and push that on other guys because it came easy to you," Cliff Lee said. "But I feel like the game he had and the way he played - he was more of a hard worker, he made it happen rather than being unbelievably blessed with talent. So I don't think that stigma applies to him as much."

Sandberg is humble by nature. He doesn't have to remind people that he has a plaque in Cooperstown. They know. And it can inspire his players, too.

"He doesn't brag about it," said Nichols, who was also on Sandberg's staff at Triple A Lehigh Valley. "But everybody knows. He's proud of it. The guys, they feed off of that and can't help but respect it."

Sandberg's potential success this year and beyond as a big-league manager will go beyond the resume attached to his name, of course. The players still need to perform. The team still needs to win games.

Sandberg, who turns 55 in September, is no different than any other manager in that his job status will eventually come down to the win-loss record in his tenure as Phillies' boss. But the people he works for, and those who work for him, are banking that Sandberg's meticulous attention to detail and preparation will result in regular success on the field.

"[In August] he almost instantly set the tone in the clubhouse that he was taking charge," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He didn't do it in a boastful way, he didn't do it in a super-aggressive way. It was just his demeanor. It was, 'These are the way things are going to be, this is how I want to run it.' I think that has continued."

The Phillies have worked tirelessly on fundamentals this spring. Baserunning and holding runners and rundowns. Hitting cutoff men and pitchers properly fielding their positions. The pregame work will continue into the season, too.

"He wants his players to play the right way," said bench coach and former Phillies manager Larry Bowa. "And that doesn't mean get three hits. If you go 0-for-4, and we get beat, 3-2, but we did everything we were supposed to do, turn the page. He doesn't want to give away games, he doesn't want you to make stupid mistakes. Strikeouts and errors are a part of the game, but missing a cutoff guy, not knowing how many outs there are, not hustling - those are things you can control. And he doesn't like that. And I think he's made it a point."

The point has been well-received by a club that was expected to win in the last 2 years, only to be frustrated by losing.

"I think that's good, because we obviously have the talent, it's just a matter of doing the little things right," Lee said. "They're just making sure we're focused on preparation and do every little thing we can right that will lead toward wins. And we should all agree with that. I know I do. This is a job. We should take it serious. The little things make a difference. That's their whole motto. I couldn't agree more."

Sandberg isn't a stickler; he's a tactician.

He wants to know every piece of information and every detail about every meeting his coaches have with players, about every side bullpen session and indoor batting-cage rep. When he was a player, Sandberg was like Chase Utley, honed in on his opponent that day, glued to pitchers' scouting reports and prepared to perform.

If nothing else, Sandberg will be prepared for his opponents as a manager and he'll make sure the Phillies are prepared to perform today and in the 161 games that follow, too.

"He has a drive to win and a drive for his players to have success," Nichols said. "It's about the players. That's what I've noticed more than anything. The players he's had, he loves them, loves them more than anybody, and he wants to see them succeed. That's his gift as a manager-putting them in the right position to have success."

Sandberg is almost ego-less. He's the Hall of Famer who wanted to become a big-league manager so much that he rode the buses in A-ball and worked his way up the ladder, not unlike the path he took during his minor league days with the Phillies more than 30 years ago.

Sandberg will expect the same from his players. If he has to rest them more often, or move them around in the lineup, out of comfortable and customary spots, he will.

Egos are no longer important. Winning is all that matters.

"That's exactly it," Amaro said. "That's the message he sends. And I think the players have bought into it."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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