Jilted by the Cubs, Ryne Sandberg has moved on
By DAVE HOEKSTRA email@example.com August 1, 2011 11:44PM
Manager Ryne Sandberg has the Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate in first place. | Frank Mitman~Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Updated: November 14, 2011 12:17AM
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Baseball is a game of timeless rituals.
The whiteboard near the clubhouse of Ryne Sandberg’s Class AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs says stretch and toss will be at 3:40 p.m., infield at 4 and batting practice at 4:15.
This is the way it has always been.
Regimen is also why the element of surprise is important to the game.
And it’s surprising to find the Hall of Famer managing in the lush green hills between Allentown and Bethlehem. He is part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization, with the city of Brotherly Love just a heartbeat south of Lehigh Valley.
Sandberg, who broke into the majors with the Phillies 30 years ago this September, didn’t feel the love from the current Cubs regime.
‘‘[Cubs general manager] Jim Hendry called me on a Tuesday to say I did not get the job in Chicago,’’ Sandberg said last week before his IronPigs beat the Pawtucket Red Sox. ‘‘Which, later on, I was not surprised about. Because later on, he mentioned I wasn’t even the third or fourth guy in line. There was no other job offering other than, ‘We’d like you to come to spring training, hit a couple of fungoes and walk around.’ At that point, I knew it was time to move on.
‘‘I said I was talking to somebody else that has an appealing job for me to stay on the path I’ve chosen.’’
Sandberg paused and looked a visitor from Chicago in the eye.
‘‘No real reason to be surprised,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s baseball. It wasn’t my decision.’’
Baseball is unlike any other American sport in terms of history, lineage and loyalty. Some think Sandberg was spared from the carnage that became the 2011 Cubs.
‘‘Why would they spare me?’’ he asked. ‘‘If I was the third or fourth choice, I wasn’t even in line to be the next guy.
‘‘There’s no looking back. I’m looking forward. I have ambitions to get to the major leagues, and that was not the place for me as either a coach or a manager.’’
After hiring Mike Quade in October, Hendry told the Sun-Times: ‘‘I didn’t think that was ever in [Sandberg’s] plans to be in the minor leagues after this year. He’ll always be welcome here. He knows that.’’
Sandberg’s success is evident; he already has secured his fourth winning season in five years as a minor-league manager.
Last season, he was named manager of the year in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League after leading the Iowa Cubs to a tie for the best record in the American North Division (82-62). This season, his IronPigs lead the North Division of the International League (63-48).
Lehigh Valley leads all of minor-league baseball in attendance, averaging 9,086 per game.
‘‘I feel good with where I’m at,’’ Sandberg said. “Having four winning teams in five minor-league years is very gratifying. A lot of the players I’ve had have gone up to the major-league level with the Cubs and now here with the Phillies.’’
His most notable success story is Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. Last season at Iowa, Barney was one of Sandberg’s key projects.
‘‘I had him for four years — you’ve got to be kidding me,’’ Sandberg said. ‘‘I’ve had numerous players who are with the Cubs now and others that are on the way.”
Later, after pitching batting practice, Sandberg walked over and corrected himself.
‘‘I had Barney for three years,’’ he said. ‘‘The years start to blend together.’’
But the notion to get things right is timeless.
Last week in Milwaukee, Barney said: ‘‘In no way am I wishing [Sandberg] was the manager here over Mike Quade because Quade’s got the job. But I do hope the best for him, and I’d be lying if I was to say that I didn’t want to play for him at the big-league level. Someday he will be a big-league manager, and I’ll be very excited for him.’’
Phils didn’t hesitate
The Phillies’ organization jumped on the chance to hire Sandberg.
‘‘They said they’d get back to me in three or four days,’’ Sandberg recalled. ‘‘They called me the next morning and said the job was mine.’’
Did he know what an IronPig was?
‘‘No, but I learned,’’ he said. ‘‘Pig iron was the raw material that comes out of the ground [and formed into molds] to make steel.’’
Sandberg seemed proud to show he had done his homework. He is serious that way.
He never brought up his Hall of Fame credentials during the two-hour interview with Phillies officials.
‘‘During the process, the only time Ryne spoke of the Hall of Fame was when we would ask him a question,’’ Chuck LaMar, assistant GM for player development, said from Philadelphia. ‘‘He was there to show us that we were hiring the right baseball person. He spent much more time talking about his attributes in those areas and what he needed to learn. It was not only classy, but he is truly a humble person. He appreciates what he accomplished as a player, but he knows that will not get him where he wants to go in the future.’’
Sandberg’s players wear their socks up and caps neatly creased. There is not a lot of bling. This is a business — the business of winning.
‘‘As a minor-leaguer, the Phillies were a family, and everybody was on the same page,’’ Sandberg said. ‘‘We were labeled ‘The Fightin’ Phillies.’ There was a certain way to play the game. At the major-league level back then, it was the Pete Roses, the Mike Schmidts and the [Larry] Bowas and the [Manny] Trillos. I witnessed the World Series in 1980 as a minor-leaguer. That was the way you went about business. Great communication. Family-oriented. Everyone in the organization feels part of what’s going on at the major-league level.’’
The only immediate way Sandberg could return to the Cubs would be after a purge of Hendry and Cubs president Crane Kenney and the hiring of Phillies special adviser Pat Gillick, who has said he’d consider the Kenney slot. Such a chain of events could bring Sandberg back full circle to when he came from Philadelphia to Chicago under Dallas Green’s ‘‘new tradition.’’
Stranger things have happened. After all, pigs fly in Lehigh Valley.
The IronPigs’ 8-7 victory in 10 innings last Tuesday became a metaphor for Sandberg’s perseverance, a path on which no other Hall of Famer has traveled. They rallied from deficits three times before winning.
‘‘It’s a never-say-die group,’’ Sandberg said after the game. ‘‘When they score one, we will score two. It’s good baseball and aggressive baseball.’’
He stood in front of his office with a small nameplate that read ‘‘Boss Hog.’’
Raves from Walrond, Barney
The oldest guy in Sandberg’s bullpen is 2006 Cubs left-hander Les Walrond, who at 34 serves as an unofficial pitching coach to the piglets. Walrond has played for 16 major- and minor-league teams, as well as a season with Yokohama in the Japanese Central League and Doosan in the Korean Baseball Organization.
He knows something about managers.
‘‘Ryne seemed quiet to me, pitcher-wise,’’ Walrond said before the game last Tuesday. ‘‘But he knows what he’s doing. When I come in to pitch, I can see the wheels turning. He’s always trying to be two or three steps ahead of the next guy.
‘‘He is no-nonsense. When a rule is implemented, he expects us to be men and baseball players and to abide by those rules. Bring your pants up. When a guy gives you that kind of respect, you want to respect the manager back.”
Barney backed up that assertion.
‘‘The thing about Ryno is his demeanor,’’ Barney said. ‘‘When you play for a guy like him, you want to walk like him, you want to talk like him. You want to perform well for him because he instills trust in you. I always felt Ryno had my back. I felt as he came up in the organization, he got better at knowing what to say at the right time.’’
Barney recalled Sandberg addressing his Iowa Cubs after they blew a big lead against the Memphis Redbirds in a key game last season.
‘‘He didn’t point any fingers,’’ Barney said. ‘‘He didn’t say anything negative. Pretty much saying, ‘Look, we need to bury somebody when we have the chance.’ Just the way he went about that was different than it was in Peoria. So I felt after last year he was ready for whatever he was aspiring to do.’’
‘‘You know, it was serendipitous to come back here,’’ Sandberg reflected. ‘‘Not only wearing the Phillies uniform, but going to spring training where I reported as an 18-year-old in Clearwater, Fla., where I spent four spring trainings and four minor-league camps. It’s where it all started for me.’’
The Hall of Famer turned
around and picked up a plastic bucket filled with batting-practice baseballs. His gray hair was a contrast to his maroon IronPigs cap. The back of his neck was sweaty and dark red, the color of parched Georgia clay.
Ryne Sandberg still follows baseball’s timeless sun.
Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer For more on Ryne Sandberg’s life in Lehigh Valley, go to
For more on Ryne Sandberg’s life in Lehigh Valley, go toblogs.suntimes.com/hoekstra.