Who's On Deck?
Saturday night I watched 14 innings of baseball at Principal Park, the same number it took the Iowa Cubs to sweep a doubleheader earlier in the week.The I-Cubs were down to their third-string first base coach by the time this one ended on a walk-off play at the plate with lightning crackling in the distance. Until then the highlight was my leaping grab of a hot dog burped up by the bazooka that scoots around the perimeter of the field on a golf cart between innings. I say burped because we were seated in the front row between the visiting dugout and the visiting bullpen. Maybe bunted would be a better verb.
The game broke from the box quickly before settling into a pitching duel. Sam Fuld played a first-inning single into a triple going for another highlight reel catch. Then in the bottom of the first he was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single. He plays like a kid and I enjoy watching him. The second out of that frame was a tag play at the plate after Ryne Sandberg appeared to change his mind from stop to go in the third base coaching box. Albuquerque seemed on their way to a 27- hit shutout.
During the long, scoreless middle portions of the game my mind wandered back and forth from the lackluster team in Chicago that was embarrassed [again] that afternoon to the hustling, grinding one getting dirty on the field in front of me. I gave some serious thought to the questions of whether or not Sandberg will or should be the next manager at Clark & Addison.
I threw out the fact that he doesn’t appear to have the best judgment as a traffic cop based on what I’ve witnessed firsthand. That won’t matter. What will?
Despite his chronic lack of charisma, his return to Chicago would be a PR plus. That might not have counted as much before no-shows started no-showing this year. It may be a slight factor in his favor now. His presence in Des Moines will not be able to trump bad weather and produce an attendance record here as I’d expected it would, but he is patient and accommodating with fans who line up for autographs before every home game. Even though no NL pennants flew at Wrigley Field during his playing days, his jersey number now does and will forever [will he wear it if he returns?]. He is revered there.
More critical is the direction the new ownership points the organization in after “Year One.” Payroll largesse hangs around this year’s lineups like a noose. To the extent some of that can be shed in a transition to a more homegrown, developing team of younger and hungrier players, Sandberg might make sense as a choice to continue working with players in the big leagues that played for him at different levels of the farm system.
I don’t see him as someone suited to massage the egos of temperamental prima donnas with guaranteed contracts, no trade clauses, personal coaches, etc. For all of his blandness, Sandberg offered some real insight into what makes him tick when he gave his induction speech at Cooperstown. He backed up the theme of those remarks when he signed on for another hitch in the bush leagues as a means of working his way back to the big time as a manager. I admire and share many of his feelings about respect for the game and the proper way to play it. But just because his managerial style seems to have played well in Peoria [and Tennessee and Des Moines where he has patiently guided a slow-starting team that lacks offensive muscle into first place] doesn’t mean it will in Chicago.
I remember when the Cubs hired Don Baylor and he announced some nonsense about how the players were to wear their uniforms and be on the field at attention for the National Anthem every day. At the time I cheered. Turned out that sort of stuff didn’t translate into a changing of the guard with the team pennants on the scoreboard pole.
I don’t know if Sandberg should be the Cubs’ next manager or not. I don’t even know if I want him to be. But I do think he has earned serious consideration next time the job comes open, whenever that happens to be. Just don't hire him to replace Mike Quade.