When the Philadelphia Phillies fired Charlie Manuel, the manager who won the city its first World Series since 1980, most assumed the reason was because he had lost the attention and respect of the players. Manuel was always known as a “player’s manager” around MLB and some thought it had gotten to the point where the team just wasn’t listening to him anymore.
That was supposed to be fixed when Ruben Amaro Jr. promoted third base coach and Manuel heir apparent Ryne Sandberg in August 2013. As a manager Sandberg had a reputation for being big on fundamentals and unafraid of upsetting the proverbial apple cart by telling any player, rookie or veteran, that he wasn’t happy with how they were playing.
So it came as no surprise that Sandberg called a team meeting after their recent dismal home stand, which included two shutouts, a no-hitter and almost no offensive production to speak of. He tried to stress to the players that they needed to have a sense of urgency and that they weren’t even coming close to meeting Sandberg’s expectations.
The result? The Phillies went out and were promptly shut out by the Washington Nationals 7-0, the seventh time the the team has been blanked in the last 27 games and falling eight games under .500.
I think it’s safe to say that Sandberg’s team meeting had exactly zero effect on the clubhouse.
Which begs the question: has Sandberg already lost the Phillies’ locker room barely halfway through his first full season as manager?
There has already been speculation that some of the veteran players have had issues with Sandberg’s management style, especially Jimmy Rollins. Others have said that Sandberg’s laid back, relaxed attitude is sending mixed signals to the players. Regardless, for whatever reason, the Phillies are just not playing good baseball right now and some of that blame has to land at the feet of the manager.
That Sandberg is having problems connecting with his players is not surprising when you think of the bond that many of the holdovers from the team that went to the World Series in 2008 and ’09 had with Manuel, who many looked at like a father. Trying to fill that hole would be next to impossible for anyone, especially on the club with as many old players as the Phillies have.
So what’s the answer? How can Amaro Jr. fix the problem? Honestly, there may be no fixing it at this stage of the season. If the Phillies decide to hold a fire sale at the trade deadline and move many of their veterans, Sandberg will have the chance to shape and build a team from scratch, which may be a better fit for how he likes to run a team. On the other hand, if Amaro Jr. keeps the older players around, he may have to let Sandberg walk to give the clubhouse the jolt of energy it needs.
The real shame about the whole situation is that this shouldn’t be a reflection of Sandberg’s skills as a manager. He has done the best he can with a group that either lacks the talent to play good baseball or is simply past its prime. It’s the same situation Manuel found himself in last season and at the end of the day, it cost him his job.
Let’s hope Sandberg doesn’t suffer a similar fate.