CHICAGO – Hall of Famers don’t ride buses. They don’t carry their own bags and they don’t look forward to postgame meals from restaurants like Shoney’s and Arby’s.
They don’t do it often, anyway. But Ryne Sandberg has.
He has managed in the Cubs’ farm system for three years, including a trip to the championship series of the Double-A Southern League this season, where his Tennessee Smokies were beaten by Jacksonville in four games in the best-of-5 finals.
As a result, he has positioned himself to become the first Hall of Fame player in more than 30 years to get a chance to manage in the major leagues.
Sandberg has been clear about his ultimate goal – to manage the Cubs to the World Series that escaped him during his 15 seasons in Chicago. But the Spokane native and North Central graduate is not going to turn his back on any opportunity waiting for a chance to replace Lou Piniella, who seems set to manage the Cubs in 2010, the last year on his contract.
“Sure, I’d listen to anyone,” Sandberg said. “I’d have to weigh everything. I don’t know the situation with all the teams. But if somebody thinks I’m ready, if they want to talk to me, I’d definitely listen.”
Sandberg retired as a player in 1997. He was out of baseball until 2007, when he accepted Jim Hendry’s offer to manage the Peoria Chiefs in the low-A Midwest League.
That offer was the result of Sandberg pushing for an interview when the Cubs replaced Dusty Baker as manager. Hendry told him he felt he lacked experience, so Sandberg has spent three seasons getting on-the-job training.
Frank Robinson, the last Hall of Famer to get a big-league managing job, was a player-manager at the end of his career. Does Sandberg believe he’s ready?
He does, but he doesn’t want to turn anyone off with his confidence.
“I would say this has been a year that has gone so much smoother than the first two years in A ball,” Sandberg said. “This year I felt much more comfortable with everything, applying it at this level. … I feel like I’m just waiting for somebody to tell me I’m ready. If somebody feels I’m ready for the major leagues, then I’m ready.”
It’s unclear how many openings there will be for managers after this season. The best job would be with the Braves, if Bobby Cox decides to retire, but there could be openings with the Nationals, Reds, Astros, Mets, Orioles and Indians.
As quiet as Sandberg was as a player, he has a take-charge style as a manager – he was ejected from Game 1 of the Southern League championship series – and doesn’t mind being outspoken, especially about the need for players to respect their sport. He took swipes at Sammy Sosa in his Hall of Fame induction speech and reiterated this year that he doesn’t believe Sosa or others tied to steroids should be voted into the Hall.
His appeal might be the greatest for a rebuilding franchise with young players and the need to build its fan base. That certainly would be the case with the Nationals and Orioles, as well as the Indians.
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