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Last thing Ryne Sandberg should want is Cubs job

Ryne Sandberg now manager Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be grateful he didn't become Cubs' skipper given their embarrassing season.

Ryne Sandberg, now manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, should be grateful he didn't become the Cubs' skipper given their embarrassing season. | Frank Mitman~Lehigh Valley IronPigs

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Updated: October 25, 2011 12:29AM

Perhaps you’ve heard the pro-Ryne Sandberg crowd clearing its collective voice.

Ahem, it begins.

Couldn’t help but notice the mess the Cubs are in, it says.

Wouldn’t Ryno have been a much better choice to manage the team than the overmatched Mike Quade, it asks.

I think we all understand the sentiment. Even by Cubs standards, the Cubs are awful. Before their 10-9 victory Thursday night in Washington, their winning percentage was .398. In their previous 137 years of existence, they finished with a lower percentage only seven times.

The Cubs will call that an unfair comparison and argue that there’s a lot of baseball left. Is that supposed to be comforting?

Ugly errors. Wild pitches to lose games. Boneheaded baseball. Why would Sandberg want any part of this farce?

He should be counting his blessings from his perch as manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate. He doesn’t have to manage the Chicago TinCubs.

To show his appreciation, he should come to Wrigley Field during the next homestand, face the crowd, adjust the microphone stand and begin: ‘‘Today (today, today . . .), I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’’

The Ryno-Harry-Ronnie nostalgia bus is revving up again. If only the Cubs had a manager who gets it. If only Sandberg were here to pull the franchise out of the quagmire. Remember his two-homer game against the Cardinals? And where were you that day, June 23, 1984?

Would life be better for the Cubs right now if Ryno had his hand on the tiller? Well, it couldn’t be worse, and that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

What seems clear halfway into Quade’s first full season as Cubs skipper is that his blue-sky optimism isn’t working. It worked last year after Lou Piniella retired in August. The team responded positively to change, the way a lot of teams do when a new manager takes over.

But now? It’s dark and stormy, no matter what Quade’s fork-in-the-outlet smile implies. He’s upbeat when what the Cubs really need is a beat-down. They need someone who teaches fundamentals and demands a lot. Someone like, oh, Bob Brenly, who, as luck would have it, is sitting in the Cubs’ TV broadcast booth.

Ryno is no drill sergeant

Carlos Zambrano said in early June what Quade should have said: The team is an embarrassment. This is where Sandberg comes in, or doesn’t come in. He has some good traits, but being the bad cop isn’t one of them.

It’s not just about making the grand statement. It’s about holding players accountable. Unless Sandberg has undergone personality-replacement surgery, it’s hard to picture him storming in like a drill sergeant.

That’s not Sandberg’s way, nor should it be. And this really isn’t about what he can or can’t do as a manager. If he wants to move into a situation with a chance for long-term success, this wouldn’t be it.

This job is a foul one, and it calls for someone who isn’t worried about self-preservation.

The Cubs didn’t have to apologize for hiring Quade over Sandberg last year. They would have saved themselves a lot of headaches years ago by not giving Sandberg a managerial job in their minor-league system. Along the way, he openly politicked for the big-league job, even though the club had no intention of giving it to him. Neither side came out of it looking particularly good.

A culture of mediocrity

And now the Cubs have to listen to the romantics who still live in the 1980s. That’s not Ryno’s fault. That’s the Cubs’ fault for putting such a bad product on the field. To be sure, they’ve had injuries, but the talent isn’t .398 bad. What’s happened here is the result of below-average players, below-average intensity and a below-average manager. It’s also the result of a decades-old culture that promotes sunny Wrigley over good baseball. All those years of sellouts told the Cubs that winning wasn’t necessarily crucial. Or even necessary.

Now the sellouts have coughed and sputtered to a halt. If Sandberg had been here, he might have been able to bring back some of the fans — for a while. But nostalgia works for only so long, even at Wrigley Field. It took years, but that opiate finally lost its potency.

Sandberg is better off where he is. Will he get a big-league managing job someday? I don’t know. I do know that if the Cubs had given him a two-year contract, he would have failed. So would just about every manager this side of John McGraw.

The Rochester Red Wings no-hit Sandberg’s IronPigs on Wednesday, which sounds very Cub-like. But his team is in first place in its division, which is very un-Cub-like.

Stay away, Ryno, if you know what’s good for you.

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