The initial days were awkward, and there was no handbook to guide Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Fame player carries impressive credentials, but he replaced the most successful manager in Phillies history. Talk about next year was suppressed — his stated focus was just the next day’s game and having six weeks to make an impression.
But from the moment Sandberg was hired prior to the 2011 season as the manager of triple-A Lehigh Valley, it was assumed he would succeed Charlie Manuel. A successful stint as interim manager with a depleted team far from postseason contention only solidified Sandberg’s future as the 52nd manager in Phillies history.
His promotion is a mere formality.
It will be intriguing to see which coaches hired by Manuel are retained by Sandberg. While the Phillies are evaluating everyone, Sandberg said forming a coaching staff is not a priority.
“No,” Sandberg said, “I’m not doing that at all.”
Pitching coach Rich Dubee has spent the last nine seasons at his post and became a trusted confidant of Manuel’s. The former manager deferred nearly all of his pitching decisions to Dubee. The New Englander is known for his brash personality, which has benefited some pitchers and alienated others. That, of course, will happen with any coach and personality.
Dubee’s staff led the majors in ERA two seasons ago and is in danger of being the National League’s worst in 2013. That is related to his personnel, but the numbers can justify a change in leadership. Sandberg, who was known to attend pitchers’ bullpen sessions while managing in the minors, could want a larger say in pitching decisions than Manuel did. If Dubee is not the man, expect the Phillies to pursue someone with experience as a pitching coach in the majors.
Rod Nichols, promoted to bullpen coach before this season, does not fit that description. But he is well-liked by the staff and pitched in the majors. Nichols was Sandberg’s pitching coach for two years at triple A.
Dave Duncan, the longtime pitching savant with St. Louis, recently told FoxSports.com that clubs had expressed interest in him. Duncan left the Cardinals before the 2012 season to attend to family health issues. Whether Duncan, 68, would even consider a return to full-time coaching is unknown. The Phillies would be wise to ask.
Hitting coaches Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner had just one season to implement their tactics. These Phillies are on pace to score fewer runs than any since 1988. Can they be judged on that? Both bring a positive, upbeat approach to hitting that did not translate into widespread success. The maturation of Domonic Brown is one accomplishment for which they were credited.
Sandberg may have his own people in mind. Larry Bowa, one of his closest baseball friends, would welcome a return to coaching. Management is a possible impediment to that — Bowa did not leave the Phillies on the greatest of terms in 2004.
Catching coach Mick Billmeyer is the longest-tenured member of the staff, having served under three managers. He moved from the bullpen to the bench in 2013 and served as a de facto bench coach. Both third-base coach Juan Samuel and he are popular among players. Bowa, in theory, must replace one of them if he is hired.
These are dilemmas to be decided in early October, once the word “interim is removed from Sandberg’s title. The harder determinations begin when the World Series concludes.