CHICAGO – If you don’t want to catch a trophy fish, you shouldn’t go fishing.
Jim Hendry dropped a line in the water the day in the fall of 2006 when he suggested Ryne Sandberg learn how to be a baseball manager by going back to the minor leagues, a trip Hall of Fame players almost never make. He seemed happy Sandberg took him up on the offer, agreeing to manage low-A Peoria, four rungs away from where he wanted to be, at Wrigley Field.
But it seems crystal clear now Hendry never considered Sandberg as a legitimate managerial possibility, for reasons known only to the Cubs’ general manager.
When Lou Piniella left town after the seemingly inevitable failure that befalls someone with enough hubris to think he can succeed where no one has since Frank Chance, Hendry had a major catch waiting for him, already on the line.
Yet on Tuesday, Hendry officially threw back Sandberg – an ill-advised catch and release that will bring consequences far beyond the offices at Clark and Addison.
Sandberg deserved to be the Cubs’ next manager. There shouldn’t even have been a search, really. This was a no-brainer – hiring a great player with enough humility to ride buses alongside 22-year-old players and enough knowledge and presence to not only develop those players (a minor-league manager’s primary job) but also to win.
It’s the last part that sometimes gets lost with Sandberg. It would make sense to hire Mike Quade, not Sandberg, if Sandberg’s teams had struggled to win games. But in the last two years he took a Double-A team to the league championship and produced the most victories in a 16-team Triple-A league.
If what Sandberg has done isn’t enough to get a chance to manage in the big leagues, when exactly will another player with similar stature sign on for a minor-league apprenticeship?
Hendry and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts may just have ended the possibility that another Hall of Fame player could become a manager, unless that player simply was handed a big-league job without minor-league experience.
That’s a shame. Baseball would be a lot better off if guys such as Carlton Fisk, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Greg Maddux would get their hands dirty again after the end of their careers. Yes, Maddux is a special assistant to Hendry, but you don’t see him signing up for a full-time job, do you?
Baseball on the management side is hard work and doesn’t come with the adrenaline rush of those six or seven minutes a day at the plate. Nor do these jobs pay a lot, not compared with the salaries of elite players. It was remarkable Sandberg was as dedicated as he was for four years, and Hendry and Ricketts essentially have crumpled up his resume and thrown it into the waste bin.