From the second the 2011 Lehigh Valley IronPigs hit the field this season, there was a different swagger to them. They were starting runners, taking extra bases, hitting cut-off men and fundamentals were suddenly, well, fundamental. Yes, a fairly significant roster turnover had something to do with the changes, but there was something more to it than that. There was a new Boss Hogg in town and he carried a pretty hefty resume with him, to boot.
Ryne Sandberg resisted any temptation to talk about the horrid first three seasons that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs faced. Instead, it was all about the here and now; the cards that he had been dealt to become manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It would have been easy for Sandberg to pile on and take a shot or two at the lackluster performance that Lehigh Valley had under manager Dave Huppert, but in the long run, it wouldn't have done anything for Sandberg or his team.
Center fielder Rich Thompson had suffered through at least part of each of the first three seasons in IronPigs history and liked what Sandberg brought to town. "He's a Hall of Famer and that has to carry some weight with it," said Thompson. "He was consistent from the first time I met him right through tonight [after the IronPigs lost to Columbus in the International League Championship] and you always knew what was expected." Like Sandberg, Thompson chose not to pile on, preferring instead to look back fondly on the 2011 season. "All I know is that this season was a lot of fun and playing for Ryno was a great experience."
Thompson's thoughts were echoed throughout the IronPigs clubhouse all season long. Sandberg's managerial style is impressive, and not just to fans, but to his players. He doesn't stand around watching his club go through workouts, preferring instead to be right in the middle of the action. It was never a surprise to see Sandberg working with players or talking to them about how to handle certain situations. He came to Lehigh Valley with the wisdom of a Hall of Famer and passed what he knew along to his players and it showed in the way they played on the field. That's exactly the kind of style that Sandberg likes to use and believes in being a very hands-on manager.
"I love to be out there," said Sandberg about how he handles pre-game drills. "As long as I can physically get out there and work with these guys, that's how I want to approach the game. I think it also says something to them [the players], that if the manager is out there breaking a sweat, they should be too."
After his playing career, Sandberg likely could have landed a spot with a major league club as a coach, or at least started in the higher ranks of a minor league system to work toward being a major league manager. Instead, Sandberg subjected himself to the rigors that a young player fighting for a major league job has to go through and that meant a trip back to the lower levels of the minor leagues. Instead, Sandberg started his managing career at Class-A Peoria in 2007 and spent two seasons there before moving along to Double-A Tennessee and then Triple-A Iowa in the Cubs organization. The fact that Sandberg was overlooked to be the Cubs manager following the 2010 season is well documented and in hindsight, perhaps the Cubs wish they would have gone that direction, rather than simply erasing the interim from Mike Quade's title and making him the manager of the Cubbies.
Perhaps that slight reminded Sandberg of 1982 when he was a throw-in to get Ivan DeJesus from the Cubs and the Phillies overlooked what he would have been able to do for them long-term as a major league secondbaseman. What it did was open a door for Sandberg to leave the Cubs and return to the Phillies organization, where his career had started as a 20th round draft pick in 1978. It also provided the Phillies with a rare do-over in dealing with Ryne Sandberg and they might be wise to keep that in mind and keep him around the organization, if possible.
The only guaranteed way of keeping Sandberg around would be to give him the major league manager's job, but Charlie Manuel isn't going anywhere, so that's not going to happen. A promise of having the job when Manuel departs would go a long way toward making him happy, but it's also not likely to be enough if another club comes knocking to hire him as their major league manager. With managerial openings in Boston and with the Chicago White Sox and others possible - perhaps even on the north side of Chicago - Sandberg is sure to get at least an interview or two this offseason. The Red Sox reportedly have him on a list of potential managers that they have an interest in following the departure of Terry Francona. Interestingly enough, another name on that list is that of Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin.
Yes, finally, Mackanin is getting some consideration to manage again in the majors. Twice in his career, Mackanin has been an interim manager and his teams performed admirably in those two stints. If Mackanin were to get the job in Boston, look for the Phillies to quickly try to lock up Sandberg as a bench coach and heir to the manager's office at Citizens Bank Park. Manuel has a deal that carries through the 2013 season when Manuel would be 69 years-old. Will he want to continue managing at that point? Nobody knows, but depending on what happens between now and then, Manuel might be in a position where he would be willing to turn over the reins of the club and enjoy being a Phillies elder-statesman. Of course, Manuel might be looking to manage for much longer than that and if the Phillies are still competitive, there might not be a reason to ask him to vacate the job.
For much of the season, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Sandberg would only be a one-season manager in the Phillies minor league organization. The conventional wisdom is that he will either find a major league manager's job or, at least a major league coaching job that would fit him better than a third season as a Triple-A manager would. Sandberg has all of the credentials, he's paid his managerial dues and he certainly has the respect of front offices all around baseball, so it stands to reason that he will be a major league manager before long. It would be a shame for the Phillies to again miss out on having a productive Ryne Sandberg at the major league level, but other than the possibility of Mackanin exiting for another position, it's not looking like they'll have enough to offer to keep him in the organization. Should Sandberg not get a major league job, it stands to reason that he would quickly accept another season with Lehigh Valley. When all was said and done with the 2011 'Pigs, Sandberg talked glowingly about how he enjoyed the opportunity with Lehigh Valley and how much respect he had for the organization. To go another season in the minors might not be what Sandberg had planned, but sometimes, men plan and the Baseball Gods laugh. It's good to know that if Sandberg returns to manage another season in the minors, it will be at Lehigh Valley. It's also good to know that there is at least a chance that this time, the Phillies won't let him go before he has a chance to show what he can do at the major league level.
Ryne Sandberg's managerial career