Charlie Manuel will return as the Phillies manager next season, but he will be without cohorts Greg Gross, Sam Perlozzo and Pete Mackanin, as all three were let go on Wednesday. Underperforming teams often shake up the coaching staff, even if there is no direct correlation between that and success achieved the following season.
Manuel’s contract expires after the 2013 season and all signs are pointing towards Hall-of-Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg taking over the following year. The removals of Gross, Perlozzo and Mackanin open the door for Sandberg, who managed the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs for the last two seasons, to coach third base for the Phillies.
It will be Sandberg’s first major foray into handling the major leagues from the other side and would serve as on-the-job training for his likely subsequent promotion the next year.
But is he really the right fit for this team, at that time?
Sandberg was a tremendous major league baseball player and one of the best to play his position in history. He has also taken an unorthodox approach towards coaching by working his way up from the minors instead of citing his playing career and instantly garnering a big league bench coach position. This has earned him even more respect from players, executives and analysts alike.
However, we need to take a step back for a moment. Sandberg may become a terrific manager at the major league level, but the majority of the fanbase has accepted him as Manuel’s successor without any real knowledge of his managerial skill or style. The situation has progressed from fans calling for Manuel’s removal from a broad sense to clamoring specifically for Sandberg, perhaps as soon as next season.
When it gets right down to it, we know practically nothing about how he handles different situations. We know practically nothing about how he views 3-0 greenlights, using the closer in tie games on the road (especially when said closer makes $12.5 million per year), or not casting the No. 2 hole in cliche fashion with a poor hitter who excels at bunting. We know practically nothing about his bullpen strategies or working knowledge of the value of platoon splits. We know practically nothing about his modus operandi when it comes to total pitch counts vs. the added stress of extra pitches in specific innings.
We know practically nothing about Ryne Sandberg, the manager, and everything mentioned above is vastly more important than how cool it might seem to have RYNE SANDBERG as the manager.
First, let’s clear the air: this post isn’t purposely contrarian. Sandberg may, in fact, be the right choice. He has certainly worked hard enough to deserve a major league coaching position. And, frankly, it would be pretty cool to have him as the next manager. I’m not debating his merits as a major league manager, or as the future of the Phillies’ managerial staff. I’m simply raising the point that we don’t know much about him, and it’s important to understand someone’s style when making this type of decision.
Charlie Manuel’s faults were exploited this season, and if Sandberg is merely going to serve as a younger representation of those same philosophies, then his potential hiring doesn’t make much sense. Again, this isn’t to say that he shares those philosophies, but rather that we just don’t know yet, and that philosophies fuel decisions, which can shape outcomes.
The Phillies don’t need someone as forward-thinking as Joe Maddon, but they can’t continue to waste the talent on this team with someone as backwards-thinking as Manuel. While managers don’t necessarily have much of a statistical impact over the course of a grueling 162-game season, there are certainly numerous instances throughout a season where a manager can shape the outcome of a game with a crucial decision.
While we don’t know enough about Sandberg to speak to his style, it is abundantly clear that experience isn’t an issue. Hall of Fame players don’t usually get involved in coaching, and certainly no Hall of Fame players have taken Sandberg’s coaching route. He has far more experience coaching and managing than a few current major league managers. He has also spent more time coaching and managing than several other current managers had when they were given their first managerial post. He also played 16 seasons and is well-versed in clubhouse machinations. Sandberg is a baseball lifer.
It has also become evident that one of his major strengths is player development. Sandberg has parlayed the terrific work ethic from his playing days into coaching success, spending countless hours working with players to improve various facets of their respective games. Domonic Brown effused praise for Sandberg last season, and there is a litany of players who have done the same. Perhaps his pedigree has increased the likelihood that younger players listen and take heed of his advice, which is a definite positive.
Given that the 2014-17 Phillies will start to more prominently feature the top stars of a farm system in which Sandberg managed, the connection is obvious. While Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are developed at this point, Sandberg is set to take over a lineup, bullpen and rotation that could be populated by at least 15 youngsters.
The front office also values how he handles the media, and while that seems extraneous to the actual on-field skill of a manager, it is clearly something that executives consider heavily when making decisions. Sandberg consistently comes across as humble, isn’t the type to shift blame or throw anybody under the bus, and truly cares about the players he coaches and the teams he works with.
In the end, Sandberg is most likely going to manage the Phillies from 2014-onward. He has worked his Hall of Fame butt off to get to this point, and it’s somewhat poetic that his career began with the Phillies casting him off to the Cubs, only for his managerial career to kickstart with the Cubs casting him off as the Phillies waited with open arms. It will be a much-needed change of pace for a team set to undergo some changes over the next couple of seasons. But we need to temper expectations here and remember that there isn’t much we know about his managerial style.
The Phillies may need a new manager, but they don’t need a younger version of the current manager. Sandberg doesn’t need to recite passages from Moneyball from memory or anything like that, but he can’t afford to make the very easy mistakes Manuel has made. It might not seem like much to request that the next manager be smarter than one of the least strategic managers in the game, but that’s far more important than Sandberg’s Hall of Fame playing career and the poetic narrative of his career with the Cubs and Phillies.
Hopefully, he’s up to the task, because it sure seems like the task is his.