Friday, July 03, 2015

The Last Ryno

These two statements are both true:

Ryne Sandberg could never have succeeded as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ryne Sandberg could not have failed more miserably as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The first one is obvious. This is an awful team, one with just enough lingering star talent (Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon) and faded star power (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley) to fool people into thinking they should be goodish. But Hamels can only pitch once every five days, and Papelbon only pitches on those rare occasions when the Phils get a lead, and the rest of the roster is nigh unspeakable. Howard's counting numbers are superficially decent but in context, awful. Utley fell off a cliff after last year's semi-respectable performance. Beyond that, the lineup was a wasteland of spare parts and broken prospects, at least until Maikel Franco arrived a month ago. Still, there's only so much one rookie can do, especially in a lineup that's trotting out Freddy Galvis or Dom Brown or what's left of Chooch Ruiz every night. So, no hitting. Not much fielding, either. And past Hamels and Paps, very little pitching. Aaron Harang did a nice job of inflating his trade value with some early wins, but as usual Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. held onto him too long. Beyond that, the promising bullpen cratered and the back end of the rotation was injured, awful, or Jerome Williams (i.e. "both").  And the bench...let's don't talk about the bench. This team, as constructed, made the Tony Wroten-led Sixers look like an unstoppable juggernaut.

And yet...Sandberg still blew it. He had a mission - build up trade value of expendable veterans by putting them in a position to succeed, develop younger player by giving them reasonable PT, and don't blow the future on a feeble attempt to win 59 games instead of 57.

Instead, he kept running his aging, fragile starters - starters who needed to be coddled to develop trade value before they broke down - out there for big pitch count after big pitch count. And sure enough, they broke down, or were ineffective, or both. The bullpen got mishandled brutally. Pretty much every bat on the roster regressed, and regressed badly. A Rule V pick with about as much offensive punch as a Weeble has been getting run out in center field for most of the year, while the banjo-hitting center fielder got dropped into left - normally a source of power. Weird lineups ensued. Young players failed to develop. And Sandberg got into fights - fights last year with franchise icon Jimmy Rollins. Fights this year with closer-of-the-future Ken Giles and team legend Chase Utley and more. In every way it is possible for a manager to fail, he failed - even with a team so bad there was no way to fail with it.

Which is why he's gone, and he probably won't get another chance to manage. A failure this spectacular, on this many levels, topped off with a resignation when the writing on the wall became clear to see (it read "the new team president is going to fire you") does not make for an enticing candidate, even if he did spend 6 years managing in the minors in order to pay his dues.

The moral of the story is, of course, that it is still possible to fail at something where you were mandated not to succeed. It's too bad that Sandberg and his players had to find that out the hard way.

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