There is no individual in a Phillies uniform with more directly invested in a turning of the page from the ‘Glory Years’ of the previous decade to a new beginning for the franchise than manager Ryne Sandberg.
Hired to replace Charlie Manuel, who himself had gone from a hick country buffoon in the eyes of many fans to the beloved World Series-winning “Uncle Charlie” in the span of just a couple of seasons, Sandberg has been stuck with the aging, high-salaried nucleus of Manuel’s once-great championship team.
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Now the Baseball Hall of Famer, who was a winner throughout his minor league managerial career, is looking to mold the Phillies in his style. Yesterday, Sandberg welcomed the entire team for the first official day of full squad workouts, and he spoke to them about the direction and manner in which he wants to lead them this season.
“We had a nice meeting this morning, organizationally. We obviously have a lot of new faces in camp so that goes a long way with the new players, recognizing everybody, meeting everybody in the organization. Also, I was able to set some parameters and things that I’m going to be looking for in the spring and some of the priority things. So that was loud and clear.”
Those parameters specifically address issues that have plagued the team, and which the skipper is determined to change immediately and into the future as long as he is at the helm. “We want to be a good baserunning team, we want to be a good situational hitting team.” He said that one of the keys will be to stress “doing all the little things right.”
“I was able to set some parameters and things that I’m going to be looking for in the spring and some of the priority things. So that was loud and clear.” ~ Ryne Sandberg
Doing those little things right consistently – working the count, situational hitting, going the opposite way, taking the extra base, bunting, fielding balls cleanly, proper defensive positioning, hitting cutoff men – consistently well over the course of a full 162-game season will often prove the difference between winning and losing, between getting buried in the standings and contending for the playoffs.
A year ago, the Phillies finished with a 73-89 record and in last place in the N.L. East division. They scored 619 runs and allowed 687 runs against. That -68 run differential was the 7th-worst in all of baseball. But when you break it all down, the reason for his emphasis on those “little things” becomes apparent.
The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies scored an average of 3.82 runs per game, while allowing an average of 4.24 runs per game. That’s about a half-run per game difference. If Sandberg can find a way for his team to score another run per game and/or allow a run less, by playing more fundamental baseball, then he has a winner instead of the last-place loser that most prognosticators are envisioning.
Sandberg has a guaranteed contract through next year, and an option for the 2017 season. Taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the team in his tenure thus far, many of which are continuing into this season, he has been given some length to his rope by fans, media, and most importantly by the very management that has publicly proclaimed a rebuild.
While his job does not appear to be in imminent danger, the fact is that he is a professional sports manager. They all have an expiration date. If the 2015 team should collapse, that won’t all be laid at the feet of the players. The manager will have to answer for at least a part of such a development.
It was clear from his statements yesterday and in his public attitude that Ryne Sandberg remains hopeful that the Phillies can surprise the fans and pundits, and even their own management in the coming season. A big part of his own responsibility will be finding a way to extend his hope to the fans, and the way his team plays will go a long way towards accomplishing that, win or lose.