Come to Think of It: The Astonishing Transformation of Ryne Dee Sandberg
I’d like to introduce you to someone. His name is Ryne Sandberg. Yes, that Ryne Sandberg. Yet, no, not that Ryne Sandberg.
For you don’t know this Ryne Sandberg. This Ryno is charging, my friends.
Ryne Sandberg, who seldom, if ever, had a thought as a Cubs player, seems to really have found his personality since ending his playing days.
First, there was the inspiring speech at his HOF ceremony, where he railed against steroid usage in MLB.
And since he has become a manager in the Cubs minor league system, Sandberg has been very vocal with his players, the media, and even the umpires.
The old version was a great player, to be sure, but dull as dishwater. Listening to him talk was like watching paint dry. Going to a yawning festival was more exciting than one of his interviews.
The Ryno you thought you knew didn’t have a strong thought to save his life.
Oh, but it seems the man has changed. In fact, the evolution of Ryne Sandberg the quiet man to Ryne Sandberg the leader who actually has something to say began with his inspiring Hall of Fame speech in 2005.
That’s where he took a stand against steroids, amidst a not-so-veiled rant against a former teammate named Sammy. It was a stirring speech.
Since then, as a manager in the Cubs system, the man has absolutely gone berserk at times. Yes, he actually does have a pulse after all.
He gets thrown out of games more often than Charles Barkley gets thrown out of bars.
He has bumped umpires; he has threatened to eat little children.
Okay, I made that last one up. But I think you get the point.
Sandberg started his minor league managerial career as manager of the Cubs' Class A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, on December 5, 2006. Following the 2008 season, he was promoted to manager of the Cubs' Double-A minor league team, the Tennessee Smokies.
In his first season as manager of the Chiefs, he took his team to the Midwest League Championship Game.
The same quiet, introverted kid from Spokane, Wash., who was ejected just twice in his 16-year playing career, was tossed five times and suspended once in his first year as a manager.
In his second year with the Chiefs, he was ejected eight times.
So far this year Sandberg has already received a three game suspension for altercations with umpires.
Still think that Ryno hasn’t changed? Well, consider what former teammate and ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe has to say.
"I don't understand it," Rick Sutcliffe told ESPN.com. "I rode with him for seven straight years to the ballpark and couldn't get him to say a word. Now he's getting thrown out of games? Maybe it has something to do with his hair turning gray or falling out. I'm not sure."
That same ESPN article points to changes in his personal life as possible reasons why Sandberg feels more comfortable in his own skin.
“He's also happy with both his personal and professional life. When Sandberg retired from the Cubs in 1994, it was a poorly kept secret that one of the reasons was his troubled marriage with his first wife. But since he married Margaret in 1995, Sandberg has been riding on cloud tops.”
According to knoxnews.com, Ryno isn’t afraid to use discipline on his players.
"I have discipline, I have accountability. I want them to be professional and respectful to the uniform, to the organization, and to the town," he said. "There are tough consequences if they do not abide by the rules."
Maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised by the evolution of Ryno. Behind the scenes, teammates often said he was a quiet instigator who was known for his love of the occasional hotfoot.
Either he has changed or is putting on an act to prove to everyone that he is major league manager material. Managing the Cubs is what he so desperately wants to do next.
And he just may get his chance. One can see Lou Piniella walking away after this season, especially if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs.
At 65, Lou seems to be tiring of the media questions, the scrutiny, the failed expectations. In short, it’s just about time for Sweet Lou to go off and work for the Steinbrenners in his hometown of Tampa, Florida.
At that point, will Ryno be tapped as the next manager of our Cubbies? Well, perhaps. But it may depend on who owns the team by then.
I’m sure that Cubs TV color man Bob Brenly deserves a look. After all, he did win a World Series title as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But the former second sacker may be first in the heart of potential future team owner Tom Ricketts, who got engaged to his wife at Wrigley Field and may have a soft spot in his heart for Ryno.
But is Sandberg ready to manage in the majors? Well, is anyone ever truly ready to manage a team weighed down with the heavy burden of a century of losing?
As Dusty Baker might say, “It’s a tough gig, dude.”
We know that great players often do not make great managers or coaches in professional sports. There are many theories as to why this is so.
Perhaps it’s because they had so much talent that the game came easy to them. Maybe they didn’t spend enough time sitting on the bench talking to the manager when they were players. I think much of it is because they expect their players to have the same abilities and passion for the game as they did.
Let’s hope that if he does get the opportunity, Ryno will be the exception to the rule. I just can’t imagine Sandberg getting booed at Wrigley Field.
Then again, I can't imagine him arguing with an umpire, either. Like Albert, this man is not a machine after all, come to think of it.
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