Talking past, present and future with Sandberg
PHOENIX -- Perhaps the most infamous trade in Phillies history occurred on Jan. 27, 1982. Dallas Green had just stepped down as Phils manager and taken over as general manager of the Cubs. In one of his first major moves, he traded second baseman Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies for incumbent shortstop Larry Bowa.
The other guy in the trade was a little-known Triple-A infielder in the Phillies' organization named Ryne Sandberg.
In the short term, Bowa and Sandberg shored up the middle infield on a Cubs team that won the National League East in 1984 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1945. In the long term, Sandberg turned out to be a Hall of Fame second baseman. Green certainly knew what he was doing when he made the deal.
"Dallas knew," Sandberg told MLB.com last week. "He knew something I didn't even know, because I was a Triple-A player when the trade happened and I had no idea how things would turn out. But he made the trade and he wanted me in it. He watched me play throughout the Minor Leagues, and there was something that he liked. And he was right. But that's scouting. Things turned out pretty well, as far as going to Chicago and actually getting a chance to be a regular player.
"The Phillies were just coming off winning the 1980 World Series with Bowa and Manny Trillo and Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt in the infield, so if I had remained a Phillie, I don't know if I would have had a Hall of Fame career. I might have been a utility player for a couple of years. There's no looking back. It all worked out positive. And now it's positive being back in Philadelphia and wearing this uniform."
Sandberg is now the favorite to be named the next Phillies manager if and when the 69-year-old Charlie Manuel steps down. To get to this point as a coach on Manuel's staff, Sandberg spent six seasons working as a Minor League manager in the Cubs' and Phillies' organizations.
MLB.com: How do you like what you're doing now?
Sandberg: Love it. I learned a lot in the Minor Leagues, spending six years there. I honed my skills, as far as coaching goes. I was able to work with the players in a lot of facets of the game. I love where I'm at right now. That was a goal -- to get back to the Major Leagues. I feel very good about that.
MLB.com: What's your next step after this?
Sandberg: Oh, I don't know. I focus on the job at hand and what I'm doing. That's how I was as a player, and I feel like I'm the same way as a coach. I'm happy where I'm at. Nobody ever knows what the next step is. I'm very pleased at being back at the Major League level and competing at this level. One of my goals is to get to a World Series. I did not have a chance to do that as a player, but now I have a chance to do it in this capacity, so maybe that's the next best thing.
MLB.com: But you still want to manage at the Major League level, right?
Sandberg: If the opportunity would come. I feel like this is a step toward that. But once again, I'm very happy with my role and where I'm at right now.
MLB.com: How do you feel about having spent so much time developing at the Minor League level? Meanwhile, other guys have jumped right into big league managing jobs without that kind of experience.
Sandberg: I feel fine with that. I know that six years was very worthwhile. I enjoyed it. That's the biggest thing. I had a blast. It's back to the basics of baseball, being with the young players from A-ball all the way up to Triple-A. Helping them get to the Major Leagues and helping them develop, there's a lot of gratification in doing that. That's what I got from that, as well as learning the trade myself. So as far as that goes, I think it was time very well spent. I'm very happy about that, very proud about that.
MLB.com: Are you disappointed that you never did get the Cubs' managing job?
Sandberg: No. I have nothing to be disappointed about. The way I look at things, you put in your time and you work -- you work hard. When the opportunity came, I wanted to be ready. I think sometimes Hall of Famers might get labeled as guys who aren't suited for a coaching job or to be back at the Major League level. In recent years, I can't think of another Hall of Famer -- aside from Frank Robinson -- who's at the Major League-level coaching or managing.
So that speaks for itself. There are guys I talked to who wanted to get back to the Major Leagues, but they didn't want to put in the time and start from the bottom and work their way up. I think part of this has been me proving it to baseball otherwise. So that's basically what I did. I felt like I had to prove it, and I'm fine with that.
MLB.com: During your Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2005, you spoke a lot about playing the game the right way. What was your take on the most recent voting?
Sandberg: Well, first of all, the voting is in the hands of the sportswriters who follow the game, and I think that the writers once again sent a strong message to baseball that illegal drugs and all that is not and should not be a part of baseball. I think it was very loud and clear. I think that's a strong stance, and it's good for the future of the game.
MLB.com: Do you think it's the right one moving forward?
Sandberg: I think it's the right one to not have illegal drugs interfere with professional baseball. The penalties and testing are all in place now. I think that vote sent a strong message.
MLB.com: Do you think there will be a time when voters should forgive and forget, or should those guys involved with performance-enhancing drug use never be allowed in the Hall?
Sandberg: That's out of my hands. I do not vote. That's up to the sportswriters. That's yet to be seen. That's a tough one. That was a tough era for baseball. So to deal with that, baseball is based on numbers, and I believe that any tainted numbers do not belong in the Hall of Fame.
MLB.com: So basically, if you had a vote, that's the way you would vote.
Sandberg: I'm not a sportswriter. I don't get to vote. I don't get the ballot in the mail, so it's out of my hands either way. I can say that in the history of the Hall of Fame, there are no suspicions about guys who are in the Hall of Fame. It's an elite group. And once you're in the Hall, you're in the Hall. Up until now, I think the voting system has handled things very well. And like I said before, there are no suspicions in the Hall of Fame.
MLB.com: But in your speech, you did say that Andre Dawson should be in. You said, "He did it the right way, the natural way." So you have voiced your opinion, even though you don't have a vote.
Sandberg: But that wasn't about drugs. That was about a player whose numbers, I thought, were being dwarfed by those put up in that era. I played with the guy and against him for most of my career. I saw most of his career. For a number of years, he was overshadowed by the guys who hit 60 or 70 home runs. Those numbers were astronomical and were numbers I could not relate to. I thought he was a Hall of Famer and had had a Hall of Fame career. That's why I voiced my opinion on that, and I was very happy to see him go in.
MLB.com: So what do you think about the Phillies this year, and the offensive struggles the team is going through early?
Sandberg: Well, I think it's just a matter of time before all the cylinders start to click. We do have the personnel to make a run and to go a long way. At least that's the way we feel. We haven't hit on all cylinders up to this point. Our players are capable of making a run and getting hot. We haven't had a hot streak to get us to that point yet, but I believe it's right around the corner.
MLB.com: It must be fun for you having started with the Phillies, coming back to this organization. You must feel like you've come around full circle.
Sandberg: Yes, I do. I really do. At my growing years of 18 to 21 years old in the Minor Leagues, I dreamed of being a Philadelphia Phillie. To do it in this capacity is the next-best thing. It's a uniform that I'm familiar with. It's the uniform in which I learned to play the game of baseball and took me on to have a Hall of Fame career. I never forgot the four years I spent with the Phillies, my September callups and my big league Spring Trainings. I never forgot that. I learned a lot. I took those lessons and all those teachings from the John Vukoviches, the Ruben Amaro Srs., the Tony Taylors and Dallas Green. And now to work under (general manager) Ruben Amaro Jr., who use to take ground balls behind me when he was getting ready to take off to college, it does feel like I've gone around full circle, and I'm very comfortable with where I'm at.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.