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No way for Theo Epstein to duck the ‘Ryno’ question

Ryne Sandberg has been town this week but not talk Cubs president baseball operations Theo Epstein. | Sun-times Media

Ryne Sandberg has been in town this week, but not to talk to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. | Sun-times Media

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM

Ryne Sandberg continues to be the person new Cubs president Theo Epstein is asked about the most, even as he tries to avoid the subject of the Hall of Famer and former Cub returning to the organization.

The questions arose again Wednesday as Epstein made media rounds and were heightened because Sandberg and his wife, Margaret, coincidentally have been in Chicago this week, staying in their second home. The Sandbergs also were here just over a week ago for business meetings and to visit with family.

Sandberg, under contract as the manager of the Phillies’ Class AAA team, has not commented on the speculation about the Cubs, and now there’s additional speculation that he might be a managerial candidate in Boston, where new general manager Ben Cherington and Epstein offered him a job last season to manage their Class AAA Pawtucket team.

“That would be way premature to talk about,” Epstein said of Sandberg on ESPN Radio.

“Ryne Sandberg obviously was a great Cub, great player, great guy by all accounts, but he’s a Philadelphia Phillie. He’s a Triple-A manager. It would be just so premature for us to talk about that.

“I can’t talk too much about it because he’s with another organization, but [I probably see] the same things you see. He was the most humble Hall of Famer I ever met. And he demonstrated as much respect for the game as anyone I ever met. Those things stand out about him.’’

Appearing on the Score, Epstein said he has not talked to Sandberg “at all. If he’s in town, it has nothing to do with the Cubs.

‘‘Mike Quade is the guy we’re going to be talking to. I’ve talked to [Quade] on the phone, and I’m going to talk to him face-to-face in the next week. I look forward to getting to know him better and deciding what direction we go.’’

Sources close to Sandberg said he has not been contacted by the Cubs.

Asked in general about what qualities he looks for in a manager, Epstein said, “Leadership, first and foremost. You gotta have natural leadership qualities because you’re on every day.

‘‘[You’re on] for 162 games during the season, plus a month and a half for spring training, plus hopefully October.

‘‘Then you have to fit into the organizational culture, as well. I like a manager who takes a broad view of his responsibilities so he can set a good example for the minor-league staff, as well.’’

Quade has a year left on his contract.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, who watched Sandberg as a fan during his playing career, has said in the past he would welcome his return to the organization.

Sandberg has said his goal is to be a major-league manager, and while he is highly regarded by Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and thought to be a possible successor to manager Charlie Manuel, he was not promoted to the major-league staff when the Phillies announced last week they would retain all of Manuel’s coaches.

But Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin is said to be among the possible Red Sox candidates. If he were to leave, it could open a door to promote Sandberg to Manuel’s staff.

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