Commentary

Ryno 'living the dream'

He won't say it, but returning to Wrigley as a manager is vindication for Sandberg

Updated: August 30, 2013, 5:28 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- For the Chicago Cubs, two things never change.

Nostalgia sells and they will always break your heart.

That's why TV commercials heralded the return of Ryne Sandberg, Cubs Hall of Famer turned interim Phillies manager, before this weekend series, after two ownership groups and two front offices squashed his dream of managing the Cubs.

[+] EnlargeRyne Sandberg
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPassed over twice by the Cubs for their managerial job, Ryne Sandberg returned to Wrigley Field as a major league manager with the Phillies.
Hey, they never said he couldn't visit.

The marketing didn't work. The crowd was loud but sparse when Sandberg was announced before the game. If the Cubs had a giant video board, maybe they could've showed the highlights as they did on TV.

Seeing all those empty seats must've felt like 1982 when Sandberg joined the Cubs and they drew 15,000 a game.

Full house or not, there is no question this return is vindication for Sandberg, even as an interim manager of a sub-.500 that needs a major overhaul.

He won't say it, but it's true.

"I know he was champing at the bit to come back," Phillies third baseman Michael Young said. "I went in there and kind of checked on him today to see how he's doing and he was really excited, just a [expletive]-eating grin from ear to ear. We're excited for him."

Sandberg realized his managing dream, albeit in an awkward way by replacing Phillies legend Charlie Manuel, who was fired on Aug. 16. That's baseball; nothing goes as you planned.

The Cubs twice denied Sandberg a legitimate chance to fulfill his new dream of being a major league manager. Three times, if you count his initial interest in the job when Dusty Baker was fired.

Maybe that early eagerness was his fatal flaw. Naked ambition didn't become him, and frankly, the notion that he was a franchise icon above a baseball lifer might have sullied his managerial chances.

His Job-like tour of the minors became a cause of Cubs fans, especially when the parent club declined after two playoff seasons in 2007 and '08. That couldn't have helped, either.

Or maybe then-general manager Jim Hendry just didn't think Sandberg would be good at the job. Theo Epstein quickly dismissed Sandberg, too, because he didn't have any major league coaching experience.

By their unique makeup, the Cubs aren't Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox team, where you have a job for life if Jerry likes you. Tribune Co. executives had no such loyalty. New owner Tom Ricketts can't afford loyalty. Heck, the team couldn't afford to keep around David DeJesus.

While Sandberg might never manage here, he will live on forever in Cubs lore, and maybe the past is best left the past. He has a flag in right field. With no postseason success to highlight, "The Sandberg Game" will be a staple whenever the Cubs get their network.

The first time Ryno showed interest in the job after a decade away from the game, Hendry had no interest, nor should he have. Hendry needed to save his job, so he picked the veteran choice, Lou Piniella. That, along with some big-market spending, led to two division titles.

Unlike, well, any of his peers, Sandberg gained experience by managing his way up the minor league ladder, a seemingly unnecessary step for a guy with his credentials, one that did nothing but test Sandberg's resolve and set him up for disappointment when Hendry picked the forgettable Mike Quade to replace a retired Piniella.

I guess Cubs baseball really is a way of life. Even Ryno had to learn that the Cubs will only break your heart.

But in the end, that heartbreak led to the resuscitation of an old flame when the team that drafted him hired him to manage in the minors before joining the club as a coach and obvious successor to Manuel.

In reality, the Cubs did Sandberg a favor. They were in flux in 2011 and are uncompetitive now. Hot dog vendors have more job security than Cubs managers.

Young

With Ryno, his playing career immediately gets our attention. I think his baseball IQ has really been impressive to all of us.

-- Michael Young on Ryne Sandberg
If Sandberg is lucky enough to get the full-time job with the Phillies after this season, at least he knows that team won't waste a few seasons reminding everyone how good the minor leaguers are. You don't rebuild in a serious baseball market like Philadelphia.

But forget the manager, both clubs need Sandberg-like players first and foremost.

With nothing guaranteed beyond the next month, Sandberg seems at peace. He met with media for about 20 minutes Friday morning, and unlike former Cubs draft pick and Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner, Sandberg didn't say where he wanted to stick it to the Cubs.

Cubs fans should be at peace, too. I'm not sure the team lost anything by not giving Sandberg a job. Good players make a good manager. Although Young stressed the importance of having a manager who sets a positive tone.

"With Ryno, his playing career immediately gets our attention," Young said. "I think his baseball IQ has really been impressive to all of us."

Embarrassing but true, I supported Quade over Sandberg in 2011. Knowing full well that the Cubs had no interest in competing for a few years, I would've been fine with Sandberg getting the job over Dale Sveum, though I doubt Sandberg's old-school ways would've meshed with the Cubs' new approaches.

Quade didn't have the personality to manage, but he didn't have the team either. Given the two fire sales Sveum has managed through, he's had two teams each season, one that's decent and one that's fit for the Pacific Coast League.

While Sandberg has a pretty bad (and definitely old) team and no guarantees to keep his job, he has his team's attention already.

"I think you can tell he's been waiting for this opportunity for a while," Young said. "From the second he got the job, you could tell he really wanted to get to work.

"It's fun talking baseball with him. He's a baseball rat, you can tell. He loves talking baseball, he loves the workouts. A lot of us here are the same way."

Sandberg never got the chance to manage the team that got him to the Hall of Fame. But he's wearing a big league uniform now. He's doing pretty good.

"It's been living the dream all over again," he said. "From making my way up the minor leagues to getting to the major leagues this year as a coach and getting the chance to manage. It's full circle in a lot of ways."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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