Woe is Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who just announced that he’ll be spending another season managing the Phillies Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2012.
Sandberg, coming off a season in which he reached the postseason as a minor league manager for the second time in five seasons, was passed over for every available managerial vacancy in an offseason which saw two guys who had minimal coaching experience of any kind anywhere (Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura) get hired to manage the Cardinals and White Sox respectively and another guy who has only managed 12 more regular season games at the big league level than Sandberg has (Dale Sveum) land Sandberg’s dream job as manager of the Cubs. Many cited his lack of big league experience as being one of the things holding him back, something that’s frustrating to any job seeker out there who will tell you that it’s impossible to gain experience if nobody’s giving you a shot.
So what exactly is this guy going to have to do to get a shot at the big league level?
Sandberg has proven himself as a smart and effective manager, a guy who knows how to deal with players and get the most out of them throughout the course of a season. He owns a career managerial record of 364-341, not spectacular but then again in the minors, the focus is more on player development and less on winning games. He was named Manager of the Year while at Triple-A Iowa last year and lead Lehigh Valley to their first ever playoff appearance in 2011.
As a player, Sandberg’s accomplishments have been well documented. He was arguably the best second baseman to play the game in the 1980s, hitting .285 with 282 HR and 1,061 RBIs over the course of a storied playing career spanning 16 seasons. He is a man who knows the game and commands respect. And yet he keeps getting passed over, by the Cubs, the Cardinals and about anyone else with an opening. The White Sox themselves could have done wonders to take away some of the Cubs’ offseason PR mojo by hiring Sandberg to replace Ozzie Guillen. Instead, GM Kenny Williams chose to go with Robin Ventura instead. Ventura for his part had no coaching experience of ANY kind. At the very least Sandberg has been paying his dues at the minor league level, learning the ins and outs of managing a game while biding his time for the right big league opening. It’s hard to believe that someone couldn’t find at least a bench coach spot for a man who clearly knows the game about as well as anyone.
For his part, Sandberg seems to be handling the disappointment much better than Cubs fans, many of whom thought he should have gotten the Cubs job after Lou Piniella stepped down with about two months left in the 2010 season. The irony is that he may well find himself managing against the guy who wound up getting that job, Mike Quade, at Triple-A this season.
The IronPigs are understandably thrilled to get a second season out of Sandberg. Earlier this month the team launched an “Occupy Ryno” campaign designed to convince Sandberg to stick around. The team successfully leveraged social media to get fans to speak out about their desire to see No. 23 back in the dugout managing their beloved nine in 2012. It’s understandable why the team would want him back — he’s been a huge hit with fans and the front office alike. Fans line up before games to try and get his autograph and the team store sells Sandberg shirseys at $20 a pop.
Charlie Manuel is going to have to retire eventually, so perhaps if Sandberg can hold on just a little bit longer he’ll eventually take over the Phillies. Until then he’ll have to be content managing prospects and has-beens at Triple-A, paying his dues and waiting for his big break at the big league level.