Watch out for a hard-charging Ryno
Cubs' managerial snub may give Ryne Sandberg some extra motivation
Ryne Sandberg was well into his Hall of Fame career by the time I met him. As a newcomer to the Chicago Cubs' 40-man roster I remember my jaw nearly hitting the rubber floor in our locker room in Mesa, Ariz., upon walking toward my locker for the first time. There was Ryno's jersey, hanging neatly next to my locker. He would be my lockermate for a spring and it was a moment when I realized that the big leagues was where I needed to be, somehow, some way.
It wasn't long after that moment in 1993 when he would be my teammate for a rehab assignment to get healthy after breaking his hand that same spring training. He would be with me in A-Ball as a Daytona Cub for a hot minute, but I most recall how much he accomplished despite saying so little.
So we shared a stop in that journey we call a career. My stop was during my minor league trek to the big leagues where my ride was everything but smooth. His stop was a slight interruption for a player who was considered one of the best in the game. It was also at our intersection in Florida where I learned from "Ryno" that you don't have to yell and scream to be productive and noticeable. But more importantly, I learned that I had a lot more to learn.
My ride to the big leagues was a rite of passage as it is for all players. I still had to walk over the hot coals and through the barbed wire even with what typically is a red carpet-led path for a first-round pick. I had lost some support when the group that drafted me was suddenly fired and replaced. I had new evaluators, many of whom did not have to show blind loyalty as would most groups that invested in a player as their top pick. Not unlike what Sandberg will face now as a new member of the Phillies.
The greener side of grass told me that I would now have to prove myself, push any complacency out of the door, and produce; the other greener side told me that it was a bad thing that I didn't have those backers that you need to avoid some inconvenient red tape.
Along the way, I hit many bumps, a mystery injury to my shoulder, a season when I returned home from the glorious Carolina League at a scary 158 pounds at 6-foot-2, a letter from the Carolina League president with the requirement of paying a $35 fine after charging the mound in Greenville, S.C.
Yet no bump was bigger than my manager in Triple-A Iowa. The same place where Ryne Sandberg earned his PCL Manager of the Year award.
My manager and I certainly got off on the wrong foot. Our first conversation was a debate over a baserunning decision the year before our Triple-A meeting, when he was the director of instruction. In time, during my first year with him as my manager, I found out quickly that not having backers to the big leagues is not the same as having detractors -- and he was a detractor, no doubt. Detractors emphatically say no to your possibilities; they may even lay in the road.
We were opposites in the purest of ways. He was the hard-nosed field general who employed old-school methods of learning. I was the new kind of first-round pick -- an investment, not just a talent. I glided after balls in the outfield; I asked a lot of questions. I smelled the roses.
So my road to Chicago had to go through Des Moines with all of its obstacles. As I am sure was similar to Sandberg's journey through each level of minor league baseball as a manager after a prestigious Hall of Fame career. Obstacles that with maturity, I eventually saw as challenges, opportunities and tests.
Yet for a while, I hung onto those conquered challenges with some bitterness, some level of resentment. Maybe I would not have seen it in much of a negative light had the Cubs held on to me and decided to give me a shot as the starting center fielder after enduring the naysayers. Instead, I was platooning out of position and traded away to Philadelphia, two days before Christmas.
Looking back, that was the opportunity I needed, one that was better than staying as a platoon non-power hitting left fielder, yet I wanted it to work out where I began, just as many of my favorite players as a young fan would accomplish. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt those '80s players seemed to stay with the organizational relationship (not always by choice) that built a strong foundation. That was what I wanted for my career.
So if Ryne Sandberg seems a little upset that he did not get the Chicago Cubs' managerial job, maybe even resentful, I kind of understand it. For him, at this moment, it is hard to see past the broken expectation just as I had a similar difficulty when Cubs GM Ed Lynch called me to tell me I was getting shipped out to Philly. It matters not that it can still work out well for the Cubs and for him. The Cubs can see what manager Mike Quade can do, and Sandberg can just keep getting better. The good news for Sandberg is that he will get noticed when he produces.
Ironically, the day the Cubs traded me, it was to the same Phillies organization that Sandberg is about to re-enter. I had to leave the nest to find opportunity, to get truly on the map. There were days I was kicking and screaming about it -- mad that they put me through the minor league ringer and rewarded me with a ticket out of town. There were days when I wanted to thank them directly for refocusing my energies and reminding me how twisted the road to the top can get, even when it was probably just business. There were days I wanted to fight my Triple-A manager in a duel just for some of the dirt he kicked on me.
But with time and with success, those flashes of emotion gave way to looking ahead, enjoying the days as the starting center fielder for the Phillies, or rising up to the challenge of playing in Puerto Rico for the winter leagues to put an exclamation mark on my development and my newfound sense of confidence.
Sandberg may one day end up in a Cubs uniform. At that point, he will be even more tested, have a track record based on his will to go anywhere for the opportunity. In the process he will learn the range of his capabilities.
In the meantime, the Cubs have to watch closely, because despite being the nest from where I developed as a player, once sitting in the opposing dugout, I tried to put a big foot in the Cubs every chance I had, and I am sure Sandberg will do all he can to do the same despite not having the power to swing the bat.
Undesirably leaving an organization only to play against them was like competing against my dad in something in which I had never beaten him. I played to win and with the idea that one win was all it took to prove that I had arrived. You have to want it, and it is even sweeter and more enduring when it isn't just handed to you. As Jim Hendry told me upon a discussion over why I was passed up when the Cubs needed to call up an outfielder from Triple-A, "This isn't graduation. You don't just put in your four years and get to the next level."
And Sandberg knows all about earning and working, and I get the feeling he is going to be managing a lot longer than four years. And should he get the Cubs job down the road, the Cubs are going to have to open up that checkbook, because like a resilient teenager, Sandberg is a little annoyed that he had to leave home to find an opportunity. For that, he will remember this moment with the hard stare of a raven, but it will be with the smiling love of a son.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com.
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