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Sandberg optimistic for season

January 20, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
There was a time, some 25 or 30 years ago, before he was a Hall of Fame second baseman, Ryne Sandberg used to work out in the offseason with Montoursville native Tom O'Malley. Both were Major League Baseball players who spent their time in the offseason in Phoenix.

The two found a tennis club in the area where they could lift weights. Back then, the two were lifting light weights, it wasn't the strenuous program players are on today. But as Sandberg remembered, there may not have been too many weights lifted.

“I think we just shot baskets in the gym for an hour and that was our workout,” Sandberg said. “Our hair was much longer back in the day, too.”

The newest Philadelphia Phillies manager was one of four representatives of the Phillies in Williamsport on Monday night for the annual Williamsport Crosscutters Hot Stove Banquet. Sandberg was joined by Phillies third baseman and former Crosscutter Cody Asche, Director of Player Development Joe Jordan, and broadcaster Gregg Murphy.

O'Malley, who recently was hired as the hitting coach for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, was also on hand, along with Bowman Field Hall of Fame inductee R.D. Slingerland.

Sandberg is in his first full season as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Its his first big league managerial job after spending six seasons managing in the minor leagues. Two of those came with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Class AAA affiliate of the Phillies.

It's a task the former Phillies draft pick said he's ready for. It's a job he's been building toward. It's why he was willing to manage the Class A Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League for two years when he decided to get back into the game in 2007.

“I wanted to go to the minor leagues to see if I liked it, if it was for me and I enjoyed it, and to see if I was good at it. I think I accomplished all of that,” Sandberg said. “When things happened the way they did last year and the next day I was taking over the team at 2 o'clock, I felt like I was ready for that with the years of experience I had. The six years I put in the minor leagues was very much worth while and that's why I did it.”

Sandberg was the Phillies' third-base coach for Charlie Manuel when Manuel was fired in August and was hired as the interim manager despite never having managed in the big leagues before. The Phillies went 20-22 under Sandberg over the final six weeks of the season, but in a less-than-advantageous for the first-time manager.

Ryan Howard hadn't played a game since July 5 because of an injury. Michael Young was on the verge of being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ben Revere hadn't played in more than a month because of an injury. Delmon Young was also released two days prior, meaning the team was on the verge of being without half of its opening-day lineup.

With little roster turnover since the end of last season, Sandberg still said Monday night he thinks the Phillies should be better than last year's 79-83 record if for no other reason than health. It was the first time the Phillies had finished with a losing record since 2002.

“I think staying healthy will be big. Ryan Howard batting fourth and being in the middle of the lineup will be big,” said Sandberg, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. “Being where (Howard's) at right now as far as health, he's been working his tail off all winter and he's ready to go. With the rest of the core players, the Utleys, the Rollins', Ruiz, I think they had a bad taste in their mouth last year and want to get back to where they're used to.”

Sandberg said he likes the infusion of young talent into the lineup. Asche, Domonic Brown, Revere and Ruf give the Phillies some energy and excitement they seemed to have lacked in recent years. The added addition of balance of left-handers and right-handers in the lineup with the signing of Marlon Byrd has the skipper convinced the Phillies are primed to be better.

“I think we have that talent,” Sandberg said. “We do have some young players that have a chance to chip in. Revere was going good last year when he got hurt. The young arms in the bullpen got a shot to get some work last year and did a good job for the final six weeks of the season. I think that'll go a long way for us.”

Sandberg very nearly never signed to play professional baseball when he was drafted in the 20th round by the Phillies in 1978. He was a Parade All-American quarterback in high school who was set to go to Washington State to play football. He said he was planning to play baseball as his secondary sport as well.

He told pro baseball scouts not to draft him when they came to watch him, but the Phillies took a chance on him late in the draft. They convinced the Spokane, Wash., native to sign for a $20,000 signing bonus. Sandberg made his big league debut for the Phillies in 1981 as a September call up.

But he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in January of 1982 along with Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. Sandberg ended up putting together a Hall of Fame career, hitting .285 with 282 career home runs. He was the National League MVP in 1984 when he helped the Cubs win the National League East before falling in the NLCS to the San Diego Padres.

His 282 home runs as a second baseman rank fourth all-time for the position behind Jeff Kent, Honus Wagner and Craig Biggio.

It took three tries before Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 when he received more than 76 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. When he received the call from the BBWAA, he was building a pond on the side of his house in Arizona in order to keep himself busy.

“My first two years on the ballot, someone called me and asked where I would be at 10 a.m. Phoenix time when they announced who got in and I told them I'd be here at the house. But no call came in the first two years,” Sandberg told a red-clad crowd last night. “The next year, halfway through building the pond, the phone rang. It was an incredible phone call to get.”

Sandberg remembers vividly that September when he was called up to the big leagues in 1981 how he didn't say much in the clubhouse. He merely sat back and watched how the veterans on that Phillies team, fresh off the franchise's first-ever World Series championship, handled themselves.

He's taken that same approach as a manager, going to the ballpark every day with the idea of trying to learn something he didn't know before. He spent this past season picking the brain of Manuel, a veteran of 1,000 wins as a major league manager. It was similar to what he would do the previous two spring trainings when he and Manuel were in camp together.

Now he's hoping it all translates to a successful run as the Phillies' manager.

“I want to get to a World Series,” Sandberg said last night. “And I want to get there more than once.”

 
 

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