If you are a fan of baseball, or more specifically a Chicago Cub fan, you may be familiar with this story. It was brought to the surface again this weekend by The Chicago Tribune in an article about Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg. The article speculates that he will likely take over as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies before the end of this season, and goes into the reasons why, none of which can be argued. Sandberg has enjoyed success at each stop in his minor league career, and although that does not necessarily translate to success at the Big League Level, it certainly warrants an opportunity. But here is why I am compelled to comment…
I am a big Ryne Sandberg fan, and aside from the iconic Ernie Banks, there may not be a better living example of “Mr. Cub”. There were a few “struggles” associated with his playing career, but as a quiet testament to how the game of baseball should be played, there are few (if any) better examples. His election to the HOF was never in doubt, and he gave one of the more notable acceptance speeches in the history of the game. When he decided to retire, he didn’t melt away into obscurity, or jump into a high-profile on-camera network position – either of which would probably have been easy for him. Instead, he opted to work his way up the ladder again, this time in hopes of landing his “dream job”…managing the Chicago Cubs. He was assigned to the “bus leagues”, and managed without complaint from Peoria (A) to Iowa (AAA). This could go on and on, but let’s call an end to the history lesson. What is more important in the context of this blog is the fact that Sandberg had made up his mind that he wanted to manage the Cubs and was willing to work for it. It return, when the Cubs needed to replace Lou Pinella during the 2010 season, they chose Mike Quade as interim manager, and anointed him the skipper for 2011 as well. Cub fans were confused to say the least. Other franchises interviewed Sandberg for their managerial vacancies, but the Cubs KNEW him. Why was this decision so difficult to make? You couldn’t FAKE a resume to look any better…right? But I have a theory.
Perhaps Chicago’s brain trust (Theo Epstein et al) looked ahead and saw the difficulty in making Sandberg their choice. It is well known that the Cubs are in a “rebuilding” phase, and whoever was given the reigns in the early stages would be doomed to failure. Quade experienced the wrath of Chicago fans in his brief turn at the helm, and while current manager Dale Sveum has been fortunate so far, things will get ugly unless success returns to the “Friendly Confines” fairly soon.
If my theory is correct, then maybe the Cubs showed a surprising amount of compassion in telling Sandberg he wasn’t the right guy for the job – or the sacrificial lamb – whichever works. Maybe they intend to wait until the team is playing winning baseball to turn the team over to a proven winner. Of course, by the time that happens, he’ll be winning in Philadelphia.