Ryne Sandberg waited a very long time to become a major league manager. So you can understand that, finally having the chance to run a club from the beginning of a season, he would want to do things his way.
But Sandberg's way this week was the wrong way.
Depending on whether you believe him or not, Sandberg's decision to rest Jimmy Rollins for three consecutive days this week in favor of proven reserve Freddy Galvis was either necessary rest for a veteran player, or a message.
As is his wont, Rollins ran his mouth earlier in the week when his slow start (and his team's) was brought up in his earshot.
"Who cares," Rollins said, according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. Perhaps to soften his tone, Rollins followed that sharp remark with this: "You come (to Clearwater) and you work towards getting ready for the start of the season. Then, when the season starts, things matter."
In the days that followed Rollins' latest sermon on the meaning of spring training baseball, it seemed that maybe Sandberg only heard Rollins' first two words.
The day after Rollins' apathetic quote, Lawrence wrote the following:
Sandberg was asked whether Galvis could compete with Rollins for playing time in 2014.
'Freddy's a guy that will get playing time at various positions,' Sandberg said. 'He's a guy that I like in the lineup. I feel good about what he brings to the table. The biggest thing, I like his energy and his positive influence that he sets out there. He's a positive influence on everybody around him.'
And what have you thought about Jimmy in that regard this spring?
'Uh, no comment,' Sandberg said.
Sandberg's Fifth Amendment take, combined with Rollins' ongoing ride on the Phillies bench, sent the bored baseball media into full controversy speculation mode.
Leading the charge was ESPN.com's (subscription required) Buster Olney, who wrote that "Sandberg, a Hall of Famer himself, has shown that he is not accepting the status quo, and the numbers on the back of a baseball card don't necessarily guarantee anybody playing time."
Sandberg has since let a lot of the air out of this balloon, saying today, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, that his "no comment" was the wrong move. "I would like to have not said that and expand on what Jimmy has to offer and what he means to the ballclub," Sandberg explained.
In retrospect, this dust-up will easily be forgotten, assuming there are no further fireworks between manager and player.
But Sandberg was wrong to ever pick this fight in the first place.
For one thing, Rollins is the Phillies' only legitimate option at shortstop in 2014. Galvis cannot hit enough to start at the position, and the minor league shortstops in Philadelphia's minor league system are years away from the big club.
For another, even if Sandberg thought he could live with Galvis, he could never survive having a benched Rollins lingering in the dugout like a decomposing corpse (only mouthier).
And since Rollins notoriously has 10-and-5 rights, there is no guarantee that Sandberg could rid himself of the incumbent shortstop via trade, even if he found a taker.
In law school, professors teach you early never to ask a question you do not already know the answer to.
A corollary for Sandberg going forward should be never to pick a fight he cannot possibly hope to win.
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