After the news of Lou Pinella broke that he would retire as manager of the Chicago Cubs effective at the end of the season, speculation began to swirl of who may be next. Who is believed being groomed for the job is Hall of Fame Cub second baseman, Ryne Sandberg.
After taking some time away from the game once he retired, he was anxious to get involved again. And the aspirations appeared that he wanted to manage the team that he helped lead to a couple of division titles. He started out as the manager of the Peoria Chiefs where his two years there were close enough to the big lead team that fans of him and the Cubs could keep a close eye on him. While there he knew his role. Not only would he learn on the job how to manage and see what the Cubs organization had, but he was also the ambassador for the parent club signing autographs for fans of all ages prior to each game, home and away.
The Cubs knew it was time for him to make the move to Double A Tennessee Smokies, but very little attention was paid to him being so far away from the media of the third largest market. Chicago also had him on a time table to ready him for the major leagues. So after one season in the Volunteer State, Sandberg was now a ninety minute flight from Wrigley Field.
As an Iowa Cub he was no different than the manager of the Chiefs, but knew there wasn't any more room to move up. If he is to stay in the Chicago Cub organization his next stop would have to be in the Friendly Confines. But did he think that opportunity would come while the parent team is underachieving, dealing with organization enforced player suspensions and a frustrated fan base finding more and more empty seats. In other words did he expect to inherit a mess?
No one knows more about the talent in the Cubs organization than Ryne Sandberg, but perhaps the most idolized Cub of those who are paying for the tickets would he want to tarnish his image by placing himself in a tough-to-win situation? With high-paying player contracts that won't expire for at least another three years, high enough to make them tough to move in today's market, how effective can Sandberg be? And what if his success doesn't measure up to what Lou had will that affect how he will be remembered in blue pinstripes? The best example I know of to compare him to is another favorite athlete of mine turned coach, Bart Starr.
Starr was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers during their most successful run including championships and Super Bowl victories. Starr could do no wrong, and if your newborn son wasn't named Vince during the 60s, most likely Wisconsin residents would name him Bart. Shortly after his playing career Starr's number was retired, and soon after that he was asked to be the head coach and return the Packers to Championship form. But in his nine years his record was 53-77-3 with one playoff appearance coming in the NFL's strike year. No where near the Championship form of his playing years. Although still idolized in northeastern Wisconsin, definitely a blemish on his legacy as a Green Bay Packer.
Sandberg would be put into the same situation, but with a fan base who is looking to him to finally break that World Series Title drought of over 100 years. In doing so he will be given players who are overpaid with questionable chemistry. As a minor league manager he has become known as one who expects his players to play hard on every play, hustle around the bases and give their all like he did for many years. But in the minors players have to play that way in order to advance to the next level. In Chicago he will be dealing with players who will be paid whether or not the manager plays them, he just won't be able to send them down as easily. Is this the Chicago Cub team he wants to be identified with?
Ryno may feel his is ready for the challenge, but the logical move is to hire someone else, someone with little to lose, but with great knowledge of the game. A Joe Torre or a Bob Brenly who each have a World Series ring and may be looking for a new challenge. Let Sandberg come up and be their bench coach. Watch the majors from the sidelines and continue to learn, knowing he will take over when the time is right.
But is this what Sandberg will want? Probably not, but no one wants to see him fail, and the Cubs are setting him up to do that.