Ryne Sandberg jumped off the sinking ship that is the Philadelphia Phillies early Friday, departing MLB’s worst team this season with more than half a campaign to play. Putting aside for a moment what that may or may not say about Sandberg’s leadership skills, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Ford is blunt in his criticism of the Hall Of Fame second baseman, citing the Cubs’ refusal to appoint Sandberg manager 5 years ago (“the back-channel reason given was that they Cubs didn’t want to be in the position of having to fire a franchise legend…what GM Jim Hendry didn’t explain, however, was why the Cubs were so sure they would have to”) :
When Chase Utley showed him up June 16 by openly questioning strategy on the field, that was a tolling bell. Last week, when Utley went on the disabled list and Sandberg had not even been consulted or informed prior to the move, that was proof things had gone completely off the rails. The manager’s chair wasn’t officially empty for another few days, but it might as well have been.
Straight as a gun barrel, Sandberg believes in fundamentals, and he vowed to teach them regularly, which plays just fine in the minor leagues, where the guys have to listen to you, but not as well with big-leaguers. He had little blue squares painted on the inside corners of the bases at spring training so the players would be reminded how to run the bases properly. He instituted a regimen during the season that called for full infield, full outfield, and baserunning drills on a rotating basis before games, the sort of drudgery that the Phillies might have needed but not the sort that won Sandberg any support in the clubhouse. It won him eye rolls.
The Cubs aren’t a good measuring stick for how to operate a baseball team, but no organization knew Sandberg better. Major-league legends aren’t always suited to be major-league managers. In the case of Sandberg and the Phillies, this was particularly true for a major-league legend who found himself managing a team of jaded veterans and misplaced minor-leaguers, none of whom wanted to be told how to run the bases.