Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg held court with members of the local media at Coca-Cola Field Tuesday before the start of a four-game series between the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and Buffalo Bisons.
Sandberg is in his first season managing the Iron Pigs, and he has them in first place in the International League's North Division. That's an impressive feat for a franchise that has been an IL laughingstock since the former Ottawa Lynx relocated to Allentown, Pa., in 2008. The Iron Pigs started 0-11 in their first year and never spent a day above .500 in the three seasons before Sandberg's arrival.
It's hardly a coincidence. Sandberg was the Pacific Coast League's Manager of the Year in 2010 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and has won at every other minor league level.
He credits the Philadelphia Phillies for stocking the Lehigh Valley roster with veteran talent, but he deserves credit for making good use of that talent.
“Out of spring training and early in April it was my job to form a team and get them playing together as a group,’’ said Sandberg, who has seen 10 players promoted to the parent club. “It’s a good group to come to the ballpark every day, so I enjoy that and getting in our work. With their talent and with the work that we put in, the wins have been the side effect of all that.’’
However, he was passed over by the Chicago Cubs' managerial job last offseason. It was a stunning snub considering his greatest seasons came with the Cubs, who made him one of four players to have his jersey retired.
Sandberg could have returned to Iowa, but chose to leave the Cubs organization to manage for the Phillies organization, where his 16-year career began in 1978.
"There was a sense of disappointment, but that’s baseball,'' said the 10-time All-Star, nine-time Golden Glove winner, seven-time Silver Slugger recipient and 1984 National League MVP. "The next thing is what do I do now? The Phillies called me right away to see what my plans were. They got good recommendations about what I did in the Minor Leagues, so they offered me this job. I thought it was a great situation to come back here and wear this uniform and help out the Phillies at the Minor League level. I still have a goal of being a part of a World Series, so if I can do it in this capacity that would be ideal. I really enjoy where I’m at.''
For more on Sandberg's playing and managing career, check out my column in Wednesday's Buffalo News.