Among the handful of reasons that I was not in favor of Ryne Sandberg getting the Chicago Cubs’ managerial gig before the 2012 season (or the previous year), I was not looking forward to the idea that Sandberg – a Cubs fan legend – would steward what was likely to be a flailing club, leading to a probably-ugly dismissal after a couple years (not unlike what happened to the guy who actually did get the job). As we saw with Dale Sveum, when you’re in a situation where the team isn’t winning, everything that happens is under the microscope, especially in a media market like Chicago. Every little flap would have been a huge story, and the resulting tarnish may not have easily been polished off. Call me a romantic, but I think it’s nice for a team’s heroes to stay their heroes (even if the relationship is presently frayed).
Against that backdrop, I was very nervous for Sandberg to be named the manager of an aging, erratically-constructed Phillies roster this offseason. Yes, I was thrilled for Sandberg, but I don’t want to see him get blasted on a daily basis (Philly ain’t an easy town, either) for ticky-tack stuff when the real issue is that he’s got a crummy, expensive roster to work with.
The controversy is starting already. Phillies veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins – something of a leader on the team – was benched for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday’s Grapefruit League games, and Rollins believes it’s because he said “who cares” in response to a question about his early Spring struggles. Rollins was referring to the fake nature of Spring games (so he’s got me there), but he suspects his manager didn’t take kindly to his showing indifference to the games. (For his part, Sandberg said he was just trying to give Rollins some time off and get a good look at his backup.)
Rollins turned to the media, noting that he didn’t know for sure why he’d been benched, and was just waiting for Sandberg to speak to him about it. Apparently that conversation happened yesterday, with Sandberg telling reporters that he wanted Rollins to clarify his comment, and confirm that he wasn’t speaking for the Phillies when he said, “who cares.”
In the end, it’s the kind of things that will blow over. But, even if it does, and even if Rollins was probably right about the point he was trying to make (and even if Sandberg probably should have spoken with Rollins about it sooner than three days later), this is just an example of what things could be like for Sandberg all year long with that Phillies team. I just can’t see how it will win a lot of games, and Sandberg – in his first big league managerial gig – is going to have to be the face of the struggles.