Sandberg conflicted, but eager for opportunity
Interim manager honored to have served under Manuel, ready to prove himself
PHILADELPHIA -- Ryne Sandberg finally has his shot.
The Phillies announced Friday that Sandberg had been named interim manager following Charlie Manuel's dismissal after eight-plus seasons. Sandberg, 53, will have 42 games to prove himself a worthy replacement for Manuel, who leaves his post with one World Series championship, two National League pennants, five National League East titles and more wins than any other manager in franchise history.
Sandberg believes he is well prepared, managing six seasons in the Minor Leagues, including two with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he knows it will not be easy.
"It's a little bittersweet moment for myself, under the circumstances," Sandberg said. "I got the honor and privilege to be hired this year by Charlie Manuel to be on his staff. A goal of mine seven years ago when I got into managing in the Minor Leagues with the Cubs was to get back to the Major League level. Charlie allowed that.
"On the other side of the coin, as it will be for everybody -- the players, the other coaches -- it's also an opportunity. We have 42 games left. Being the interim manager, my main job will be to remind the players they are Major League players. They are getting paid pretty well. They have a job to play out the 42 games because they are meaningful games for themselves, for their careers and for the future. There are a number of veteran players, [and] it's a time for them to step up and do their part in leading the young players as we play these games. Also, for the young players, to recognize this is also an opportunity for them."
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was vague in what he wants to see from Sandberg in these final 42 games, but he said he will be watching Sandberg's progress. He said there is a chance he could name Sandberg the full-time manager following the season, although he also left open the possibility he could interview other candidates following the season.
But Amaro clearly would like to see more effort and focus from the 25 players in the clubhouse.
Sandberg acknowledged there has been a lack of effort.
"I just think there needs to be a different energy level that's shown," Sandberg said. "The guys have been very good with the coaches as far as preparing for the game. You never know what they're thinking at this time, but I think they need to be reminded that. ... I think there have been signs of lackadaisical play. And getting the players re-interested in these games, remind them that they are meaningful games, I think will be part of the order."
Sandberg's Hall of Fame credentials as a second baseman with the Cubs should carry weight. It might mean something, it might mean nothing, but Sandberg actually had players on the field before the first home game of every homestand doing infield and outfield drills.
That had not happened in recent memory.
"These guys are professional players," Sandberg said. "They're getting paid very well. Sometimes players have to dig a little deeper and play for pride, play with heart, play for the name that's on the front of the jersey. And hey, this is their career, also, and this is their year. They can put together a year. They can set themselves up on a good note going into next year with their play in the next six weeks."
Sandberg opened the season as the team's third-base coach. With his move to the dugout, Phillies first-base coach Juan Samuel moves to third. Assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner will continue his current responsibilities, but also work at first.
Sandberg will try to turn around a team that entered Friday having lost 19 of 23 games to fall out of postseason contention. It will be quite a challenge. Eleven players on the roster spent time this season in Triple-A. Two others -- infielder John McDonald and outfielder Casper Wells -- joined the Phillies after other teams cut ties with them.
"Communication is No. 1 for me," Sandberg said, speaking about his managerial philosophy. "I do like to make things happen in the game. I do like action. I like to put pressure on the defense, putting on different plays and sometimes forcing. But I will say all the players will have a chance to play.
"For the younger players, it's once again an opportunity for them. For the veterans with years under their belt, I think it's important for them to demonstrate leadership and show the young players how to do it. For the Chase Utleys and [Jimmy] Rollins -- who have been here and sustained success over a long period of time -- Cole Hamels, I think this year has been something different for them, the way things have gone. That's part of the process, too. It doesn't last forever."
It doesn't. Manuel is one of only two men who can say they managed the Phillies to a World Series championship. But he left Citizens Bank Park on Friday afternoon without a team to manage for the first time since 2004.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.