It’s time to remove the interim tag that precedes his title and name Ryne Sandberg the 52nd manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. In actuality he’s the 51st person to manage the team, as Paul Owens did two stints in the clubhouse. In 1972 Owens managed the final 80 games of the season after letting then manager Frank Luchessi go after roughly 2 1/2 seasons at the helm. In 1983 “The Pope” as Owens was referred to, came down from the front office again and replaced Pat Corrales who had a 43-42 record. The Phillies were tied for 1st place in the NL East on the day Corrales was fired. Owens went 47-30 the remainder of the season and lead the team to their 2nd World Series appearance in four years, a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. At the time it was only the Phillies 4th visit to the Fall Classic.
OK, enough with the history lesson, why should Ruben Amaro Jr. name Ryne Sandberg the manager for next season? To begin with he has a 10-8 record after taking over a team that was 53-67 in 120 games under Charlie Manuel. The team was sinking like a stone having lost 19 of their previous 23 under Manuel. Sandberg came in and changed the Phillies attitude and approach to being a team that would play winning baseball. This is not merely about winning a few meaningless games in August and September in an otherwise lost season, it’s about how Sandberg is going about getting the Phillies wins.
Last night Jimmy Rollins said something very interesting in the post-game interview. He said the game plan was to take a lot of pitches in an effort to get Strasburg out of the game early. Currently the Phillies are 14th in BB’s in the NL with 348. In Ryno’s 18 games as manager they’ve walked 64 times for an average of 3.55 BB’s per game. In Manuel’s 120 games as manager the Phils walked 284 times for an average of 2.37 walks per game. If you extrapolate the walks under Sandberg and project them out to 138 games the Phils would have 490 total walks, which is 3 more than the Cincinnati Reds who lead the NL with 487 after 138 games. Aside from the team walking more often when was the last time you heard a Phillie utter the words “game plan”?
I remember Amaro saying he didn’t care about walks back in January, which wasn’t one of the smartest things he’s ever said. Still, Manuel was the manager who encouraged the free swinging. The difference in approach and how Sandberg has managed the roster is the reason he’s two games over .500 as manager. When you consider he’s playing with half a deck (each night there’s about four players who project to start next year) I think he’s done a great job. He also has the team playing to the last out every game. Six of Sandberg’s 10 victories have come in the Phils last at bat, four of them in walk off fashion and three of them coming from behind.
It’s no coincidence the Phils are walking more as a team, particularly Rollins who has 15 of his team leading 51 BB’s in Sandberg’s 18 games as manager. It shows that he’s been able to get Rollins attention and to buy into the type of baseball Sandberg wants to play. Sandberg has also sat Rollins down to start three of the 18 games since he took over. I can’t remember the last time Rollins missed three games in 2 1/2 weeks without it being injury related. He’s letting everyone know who runs this team – and by sitting a veteran and supposed team leader he’s letting the players know they’re going to play ball Sandberg’s way, or he’ll find someone else that will.
Sandberg has managed all this while playing rookies in positions they’ve never played a major league game at (Ruf in RF, Hernandez in CF), and working in players like Roger Bernadina, Michael Martinez, John McDonald and Casper Wells who’ve combined to hit .135 for the Phils in 126 AB’s. For the season none of these players is even approaching the Mendoza line as Bernadina and Wells were waiver wire pickups, McDonald was traded for a player to be named later or cash, and Martinez is nothing more than a 30 year-old organizational player who’s spent parts of three seasons with the Phils and is still looking for the first time he can say he batted above .200 in the major leagues. Sandberg has mixed and matched lineups looking for combinations that he can win games with. It’s no easy task when there’s limited talent available, yet Sandberg is finding ways to get it done.
By all accounts Sandberg is the right man, in the right place, at the right time to manage this team in 2014. It’s time Amaro and Montgomery acknowledged this and took away the interim tag. Sandberg is a consummate baseball professional and though there may be more experienced managers available at season’s end, they’ll be available for a reason. It’s time for the Phils front office to do the right thing by not keeping Sandberg on a string. Give him a contract. Eighteen games isn’t much of a sample size, but in that short period he’s shown he’s ready.