By: Nick Roark
Former Tennessee Smokies Ryne Sandberg was named interim manager for the Philadelphia Phillies this afternoon after the NL East squad fired skipper Charlie Manuel following an eight year run that included a 2008 World Series championship over the Tampa Bay Rays. Sandberg will follow the winningest manager in Philadelphia Phillies history, as Manuel compiled a 780-636 record with fiver straight playoff appearances from 2007-11.
“The wheels have been turning,” Sandberg said at Friday afternoon’s press conference. “Any manager’s job is to get the most out of their players and play the game the right way and go about it the right way. So I think for me it all starts with just a continuity of what we’ve been doing.”
The 53-year-old takes over a fourth-place Phillies team that is 20.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. Philadelphia – sitting at 53-67 overall – is likely to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, a long fall for an organization that finished 102-60 in 2011 and claimed the NL East crown.
Sandberg’s club is fresh off a series with the team he played his Hall-of-Fame career for – the Chicago Cubs – and will travel to Wrigley Field August 30 for a three-game series against Chicago. The return to Wrigley will mean a reunion of sorts for Sandberg and the Chicago Cubs’ players he managed throughout the Minor Leagues.
“When you see a player that’s made it to the Major Leagues, you get a thrill out of that. So there was I think five or six players on the Cubs’ roster that I had started in [single-A] and up through triple-A. So that was a big thrill, but as far as going back [to Wrigley] in this seat, I think it will be kind of fun,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg managed the Chicago Cubs Double-A-affiliate Tennessee in 2009, leading his club to a 71-69 regular season record and the Southern League championship series after claiming a second-half North Division by four games over the Chattanooga Lookouts. The Smokies fell to the Jacksonville Suns three games to one in the championship series, marking the Suns’ fourth overall Southern League title.
The 2009 Smokies seemed unlikely to make the playoffs – let alone the Southern League Championship Series – after finishing the first half 32-38. The sub-.500 record included a 12-game losing streak – the second longest in franchise history – that ran from May 26 to June 4 of 2009. Sandberg’s club sunk as low as 13 games under .500 with an overall record of 21-34, but reeled off wins in 12 of their next 16 contests to conclude the first half and carry momentum into the second half.
“I can remember Ryne saying to me, ‘This is going to make our team better,’” Smokies director of broadcasting Mick Gillispie said. “Ryno was positive and as tough as it was, it ended up being something that built the team.”
The 2009 season marked the first year Tennessee appeared in the championship series since splitting a Southern League title with Mobile in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan ended the postseason abruptly.
Gillispie credited Sandberg with developing a winning attitude in the Smokies’ organization, as evidenced by their championship appearance in 2009, followed by appearances in 2010 and 2011 after the skipper had left Tennessee.
“I’ve always said this about Ryno, that he would chew off his arm to win a game,” Gillispie said. “They lost the championship series to the Suns, but got there. In 2010 they got there again and then they got there in 2011 and his fingerprint was really on the teams and kind of that mentality that helped the Smokies into a winner.”
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.