As a manager, soft-spoken Ryne Sandberg finds a temper
PEORIA, Ill. -- It's a little after 2 o'clock, some five hours before the first pitch on this steamy, sun-soaked, triple-digit afternoon; yet there's the Hall of Famer, shagging balls in the outfield and pushing a grocery cart filled with baseballs to the pitcher's mound. There's the Hall of Famer, throwing batting practice, hitting fungoes, practicing rundowns and gathering his players for a pep talk.While the 20-somethings he manages chug Gatorade and hover in the shade-covered dugout, the 47-year-old Hall of Famer doesn't stop.
Ask his players about the day it clicked that Sandberg has what it takes to manage, and they almost unanimously point to May 6, the day he went toe-to-toe with plate umpire Bronson Martinez. That day, in the third inning of a game against the Fort Wayne Wizards, Martinez ejected Chiefs pitching coach David Rosario for arguing balls and strikes. Sandberg, equally irritated by Martinez's tight strike zone, voiced his own displeasure. With Martinez inches from his face, Sandberg explained -- colorfully -- how his pitcher was being squeezed. Within seconds, he, too, was sent to the showers. But not before accidentally bumping into Martinez, a move that would result in a two-game suspension. He was no Phillip Wellman, the minor league manager who became a YouTube sensation last month for his rosin-bag-throwing meltdown. But considering the source, Sandberg's histrionics were just as eye-opening. Once he retreated to the clubhouse, he called his wife, Margaret, back in Peoria. "I answer the phone, and I'm like, 'What happened?'" Margaret says. "'Why are you calling? Is the game over?' And he's chuckling. Then he tells me, 'I just got ejected.' "He almost sounded like he was proud of himself." On the field that day, the Chiefs responded, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 10-4 victory. After the game, the players brought Sandberg into the clubhouse, where he was greeted with an ovation.
It was that Sandberg, the confident one, who picked up the phone this past winter after the Cubs fired Dusty Baker, calling general manager Jim Hendry to ask about the manager's job. His only coaching experience was eight years as a Cubs spring training instructor, but he made the call anyway. "Jim explained that my lack of experience was a concern," Sandberg says. "Which was understandable." But shortly after he hired Piniella, Hendry offered Sandberg the manager's job in Peoria, suggesting it was a good place to start. After mulling it over for a few days and talking about it with Margaret, he accepted.
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