Ryne Sandberg Saved From Never Winning A World Series

With Ryne Sandberg signing on as the new AAA skipper in the Phillies organization the Cubs managerial roller coaster finally came to a stop. Here’s a quick time-line for all of those at home:

  1. June 20, 2010 – Lou Piniella announces that he will retire at the end of the season
  2. August 22, 2010 – Lou Piniella decides the end of the season is too far away and leaves the team. Mike Quade as interim manager.
  3. October 19, 2010 – Mike Quade is hired as the next manager of the Chicago Cubs. Two year contract with a team option for a third.
  4. October 26, 2010 – Ryne Sandberg will not join Mike Quade’s major league staff.
  5. November 15, 2010 – Ryne Sandberg hired as the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs manager, the Philadelphia Phillies AAA affiliate.

Based on my previous post on the marginally successful sports satire blog The Been Stew you can probably surmise that I was a bit disappointed with the decision.  Now that I’ve had enough time to stew (see what I did there?) over all of this, here’s what one Cubs fan with an ISP has to say about it.

This is a typical head vs. heart situation. Mike Quade is basically Ryne Sandberg if Sandberg had a lot more minor league experience and actually spent a little time managing in the Majors. Even if Quade wasn’t managing the parent club as the head man for very long he does have plenty of experience with the Cubs at the major league level. He’s spent time as a bench coach and third base coach for both the Oakland A’s and the Cubs. Quade has himself one of those Minor League Manager of the Year awards as well. Return serve, Sandberg.

Quade has himself a solid resume and actually won a AAA World Series in 1999. He was probably coaching a bunch of Mike Hessmans but winning a World Series is still better than not winning one at all. If we were talking about a regular, non-sports corporation then Quade gets the job 10 times out of 10. Unless that company finds out about his alopecia areata and don’t want to pay for any ongoing treatment. I tell ya. In this economy…

How disappointed can I be with this decision? Mike Quade has proven himself a capable baseball manager at all levels, albeit his major league sample size is small at best. He went 24-13 as interim manager last year but baseball has a way of leveling these things out as the season gets longer. Quade is a native of Evanston, IL and perhaps has just as many emotional ties to the Cubs organization as Sandberg.

This hiring may turn out to be the best decision for the chemistry of the squad. Quade, for most of those on the big league roster, is well known and well respected. He’s been around for the last few years and the players play for him.

“The players, to a man, were big supporters of Quade. There were a lot of great candidates, but we were all pulling for ‘Q.’ […] It’s nothing against [Sandberg] at all. What you saw the last six weeks was as much a part of Q being in charge as it was us playing together. I think it goes hand in hand and we’re all real happy for Q.”

Maybe the Cubs weren’t all that bad last year. Quade’s stint as the interim manager may have been successful only for the fact that he actually cared. Anyone who watched Lou Piniella manage last summer could tell that he was the epitome of a lame duck. I appreciate what Piniella did during his time with the Chicago Cubs but the players sure seemed to know that he already had one foot out the door. Possibly they cared whether they won or lost because Quade actually cared. Piniella only cared about getting himself a lawn chair and an Arnie Palmer.

If Sandberg were to be the manager, what would the chemistry be? Would it be the Chicago Cubs or Ryne Sandberg’s Chicago Cubs? Players get paid to be the stars and some of them really enjoy it. I doubt Sandberg would come in and try to take away the limelight but he’d get his fair share of publicity. Ryne Sandberg knows who he is and what he is to Cubs fans. Would he steal the show? Maybe show up some of his players because he’s a living Cubs legend? I doubt he would because there’s no evidence of him doing that in the minor leagues but it’s just a thought. Quade is practically nameless outside of Chicago so there should be no trepidation concerning his ego.

But……….here’s the thing. Mike Quade is a good hire and probably the right hire if we’re just picking between him and Sandberg. What is there to look forward to in 2011, however? Not only is Quade the vanilla hire, he’s the Hy-vee sugar free vanilla that already has a little bit of that frost on the top of the flap when you open it. Quade is around for at least two years and Sandberg isn’t even in the Cubs organization anymore. Not exactly nuclear fallout but fallout nonetheless.

Sandberg wasn’t going to be a part of Quade’s staff with the Cubs and then took a lateral move to the Phillies AAA team. What can we ascertain from that? Here’s what Sandberg had to say about it:

“I didn’t think it was in the best interest for me or the Cubs or their ownership to be at the Triple-A level,” Sandberg said. “I didn’t think it would be fair to everyone involved, including the fans and the new manager, Mike Quade, with the perception of me waiting for something to go wrong in Chicago or for the ax to fall in Chicago. I wish Mike Quade and the ownership of the Cubs the best of luck. For me, this was the perfect fit.”

That’s a pretty honest and candid look at the situation. One that most Cubs fans were already formulating once the hiring of Quade was announced. Still, no matter what Sandberg says, it doesn’t look like a good thing for Cubs fans like myself that hope to see Sandberg at the end of the Chicago Cubs bench sometime during his managerial career. He’s back with the organization that drafted (but also traded) him with Charlie Manuel getting up in years. Sandberg made his name as a Cub but who knows how long that sour taste will stay in his mouth. With his move back to the Philadelphia organization it appears that Sandberg is now biding his time until *insert any major league team* comes calling.  A mercenary by any other name…

Some may argue that Quade was the right hire because Sandberg’s lack of experience and weak major league roster would lead him to failure, tarnishing his legendary status amongst Cubs fans. According to Cubs fans; bullshit. Barring any embarrassing scandals or off the field issues, any failures as a major league manager for the Cubs would do nothing to take away from what Sandberg did as a player. You think Cincinnati and Baltimore fans are picketing to kick Frank Robinson out of the HOF because he was a .500 manager? If Sandberg flops whenever he does get his chance he’ll still be Ryno.

But what if he were hired and takes the Cubs to the World Series? He’d be beyond legendary. A whole new level of existence that only Destiny’s Child in the ’90s were able to achieve. That’s the rub of the whole thing: Hiring Ryne Sandberg was no risk, all reward.

In case some haven’t noticed the Cubs have made quite a habit of failing lately. Over 100 years lately. So Sandberg comes in and stinks it up? If a tree falls in the woods…? Point is he can do no worse the those who came before him. And his he succeeds just think about what ESPN could do with that. The Disney corporation was probably at half mast just thinking about the possibility of a Ryne Sandberg-led Cubs World Series win.

Bottom line; I hope Mike Quade and the Cubs do well. Quade is a good guy and a decent manager who will probably do as well as that potential roster will allow. But without Sandberg at the helm there is no real feeling of optimism surrounding this club.

So here we sit, biding out time until pitchers and catchers report. Will the Cubs be good in 2011? Probably not. Anything to look forward to? I dunno. Maybe Jay Jackson will be decent and Josh Vitters won’t slide into Bust City. But with almost nothing to lose and everything to gain by hiring Ryne Sandberg, I wish the Cubs would have went with their heart instead of their head.

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