One month ago the Philadelphia Phillies were riding the best record in baseball to the postseason. At that time they expected that they, rather than the St. Louis Cardinals might be squaring off with the Texas Rangers in the 107th World Series. Life doesn’t often work out as expected and that rings true in sports as well. While the 102-win 2011 Phillies watch tonight’s World Series Game 7 on TV, there is much speculation about what will change at Broad & Pattison for 2012. This offseason could prove pivotal in bridging the team with 5 straight NL East divisional titles, two NL pennants and one World Championship with teams of the future.
Hope springs eternal and while Spring Training is still more than 3 months away, the winds of change are swirling at One Citizens Bank Park Way. Ryan Howard will begin his rehabilitation program and continue throughout the offseason and into April or May. Placido Polanco and Hunter Pence have both been dealing with sports hernias. Polanco had a follow-up exam with Dr. William Meyers this week. The third baseman will continue his rehab in Miami. Pence continues his rehab in Philadelphia. He’ll see Dr. Meyers next week. Jimmy Rollins will either sign a new deal with the Phillies or take his talents to the open market via free agency. Decisions must be made on the futures of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez, Ross Gload, Jose Contreras, Cole Hamels and a slew of others.
Rumors will abound throughout the Hot Stove season regarding Grady Sizemore, Troy Glaus, David Wright, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Joakim Soria just to name a few. In time we will disseminate fact from fiction and rumor from reality. November and December will reveal the free agent market and decisions made on current Phillies will determine budgetary constraints.
The most baffling possible reality may lie in an aspect of the team that has not generated so much buzz – the coaching staff. It was announced recently that all current Phillies coaches would be invited back for the 2012 season – including bench coach Pete Mackanin who’d been rumored for the open Boston job. What remained unclear was the status of the Phillies current manager and potential future manager. Charlie Manuel has secured his spot as the winningest manager in Phillies history. Meanwhile, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was quietly hired out of the Chicago Cubs minor league system to pilot the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs to a playoff appearance. Manuel still has one year remaining on his contract with an option for 2013 but why would the organization have landed someone of Sandberg’s credentials for one AAA season (57-37, IL Northern Division championship in 2011)? More importantly, with all of the tumult in the Phillies roster, is it time for a change at the helm to bring new energy and new strategy to the dugout?
Sandberg joined the big league dugout in late September after a successful AAA postseason run. This was after the Hall of Famer worked his way through every level of the Chicago Cubs organization managing at Class A, AA and AAA Iowa named PCL Manager of the Yearin 2010 – only to be skunked by
Mike Quade for the big league job upon Lou Pinella’s retirement. The former Phillies prospect, traded to Chicago with Larry Bowa (former Phillies manager and coach replaced by Charlie Manuel in 2004) in exchange for Ivan DeJesus – was finally coming back to the organization which drafted him. Sandberg would help mold talent such as Vance Worley, Domonic Brown and the future of the Phillies. Was “Ryno” being groomed to replace Manuel, expecting the Phillies to win the 2011 World Series and sending Manuel into retirement with two championships and his legend secure? That might have been the story book ending but once upon a time we realized storybook endings don’t even exist in Neverland.
Now the Phillies face a dilemma along with their player decisions. Do they sign Ryne Sandbergto a long-term major league caliber contract yet ask him to spend one more
year in the minors in deference to Charlie Manuel? Do they ride Manuel one more year still hoping for that sunset-inspired walkoff storybook championship season? Chicago Cubs are in the market for a new manager to go along with their own Renaissance. Chicago White Sox have replaced Ozzie Guillen (departed for the Miami Marlins) with untested Robin Ventura.
While there are other openings expected, Boston and Chicago are not conducive to a quiet, revered first-time major league manager like Sandberg. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the new Cubs management will clean house as much as possible but have obligations to veteran contracts and leftover immutable dysfunction from 100 years of failure. Boston could be a worse situation with rampant chaos and anarchy since their 2004 and 2007 championships. Either situation would be best served finding a tough, veteran manager the likes of Bobby Valentine, Lou Pinella or Tony LaRussa (Billy Martin, Dick Williams and Earl Weaver are not available). No word yet on what direction this situation will take.
Sandberg has not made a public statement regarding his plans which means he is not precluding a potential return to Wrigley or any other offers that come his way. He remains the most sought-after managerial “prospect” in terms of accomplishment and name recognition but in the big leagues managers are judged by one thing – wins. It doesn’t matter if a manager molds and shapes ten Hall of Famers (a la Casey Stengel) or plays fundamentally sound baseball (a la Jim Leyland) or makes all the right moves (a la Tony LaRussa).
What have you won for us lately?
Joe Torre managed for 20 years (Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Cardinals) and was considered a competent manager before he took over the Yankees in 1995 to win 4 championships – then didn’t do much with the Dodgers in his final seasons. Buck Showalter (deposed from the Bronx in 1995) has 985 wins in 13 seasons but only 100 wins in 1999 (two years before the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the NY Yankees in the World Series). Earl Weaver made a 50-win turnaround and won 318 games in three seasons with Baltimore. Weaver then went on to many years of consistency – not considered great until he paired his championship (1970 sandwiched between 1969 and 1971 World Series losses) and made his second pennant run posting back-to-back 100+ win seasons ten years after his first feat. Bobby Cox won 14 consecutive divisional flags but until he won a championship (1995) his Atlanta Braves were considered the Buffalo Bills of baseball. Conversely Ralph Houk won 311 games and won two World Championships with the 1961-1963 NY Yankees but remains relatively obscure compared to Chuck Tanner (1979 championship but 1300 career wins in 20 seasons). Wins and championships plus team identity grow managerial legend.
Philadelphia will need to decide who they want to be their manager for the next ten years. On their existing staff they have former managers Juan Samuel, pitching coach Rich Dubee, Sam Perlozzo, hitting coach Greg Gross and underrated bench coach Pete Mackanin. Last year the Phillies sacrificed former manager and heralded baserunning guru Davey Lopes. Charlie Manuel has witnessed the Phillies renaissance tallying 646 wins over 7 seasons (most wins for Phillies manager) but at 67 years old, should Manuel step into a consolatory front office or scouting role for the good of the team? Jim Thome gave way to Ryan Howard. Pat Gillick stepped aside for Ruben Amaro. Even Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton stepped away when it was their time. The Phillies have historically moved on too quickly from the likes of Gene Mauch, Eddie Sawyer, Danny Ozark, Terry Francona and Larry Bowa. This is their chance to begin a second decade as a marquee MLB franchise, with promising leadership firmly entrenched.
Question is… who will lead them?
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org