CHICAGO -- I have known Ryne Sandberg since that September day in 1981 when he got his first and only hit as a Philadelphia Phillie. Sandberg, who had just turned 22, singled against Cubs starter Mike Krukow at Wrigley Field.
Sandberg was traded that offseason in one of the best and most storied deals in Cubs history. The Phillies got a solid shortstop in Ivan De Jesus and in return they sent Larry Bowa and Sandberg, a young unproven infielder. De Jesus helped Philadelphia win a National League championship in 1983, and Sandberg became an iconic Cub and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
Now Sandberg has earned the job he has long coveted -- major league manager. The Phillies named the 53-year-old interim manager after parting with Charlie Manuel on Friday.
Sandberg was a great ballplayer and minor league manager, and there is no reason to doubt that his quality approach to baseball and life in general will help him become a successful major league manager.
Watching Sandberg manage in the Cubs' minor league system for four seasons before he was turned away from the team in 2011 was reminiscent of the hard work he put into becoming a great player. As a ballplayer, Sandberg simply outworked any inconsistencies in his game.
As a reporter on my own at the time as a freelance broadcaster, I would arrive at Wrigley Field around 8 a.m. on game days. By 9 a.m., Sandberg and Bowa were out on the field along with coach John Vukovich for 45 minutes taking ground balls, a routine Sandberg never strayed from in his entire career.
That same perseverance has been the keynote to his ascension as manager of the Phillies. He is the first player since Ted Williams in 1969 to be named a major league manager after becoming a Hall of Famer. Sandberg has always been a combination of humility and confidence.
Cubs players such as second baseman Darwin Barney, who matriculated through the Cubs' system, praise Sandberg for his teaching and handling of young players. Sandberg rode the buses as a manager in the minors the same way he did as a player. His hard work and love of the game, as well as his developed communication skills, have helped take him to this level.
That work ethic and ego check have separated Sandberg from Hall of Famers who refused to do the grunt work in the minors before taking a baseball job.
During a tough time in June 1994 while going through a divorce, Sandberg chose to care for his young children rather than continue his baseball career. He returned to the Cubs in 1996 a more outgoing person with the help of second wife Margaret, and that ultimately helped him with a new career in managing.