Ryne Sandberg is back with the organization that once gave him away and painfully watched him become a Hall of Fame player in a different uniform.
The Philadelphia Phillies hired Sandberg to manage their Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, on Monday. Nearly 29 years ago, the Phillies traded Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs in perhaps the most lopsided deal in Philadelphia sports history.
"I see this as a tremendous opportunity for me," Sandberg said. "It's going back to the roots to where I learned to play the game as a minor leaguer. I feel like a young kid again, almost reliving the days of almost 35 years ago when I was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round. I look at this as going to an organization that I definitely have ties to. I couldn't be happier about the situation."
Sandberg spent the last four seasons as a manager in Chicago's minor league system. He was 284-277-1 with two first-place finishes. In his only season managing in Triple-A, Sandberg was chosen Manager of the Year in the Pacific Coast League after leading the Iowa Cubs to a tie for the best record in the Northern Division (82-62).
Sandberg is a franchise icon in Chicago, and he was a finalist to replace Lou Piniella as manager. But Mike Quade got the job after leading the Cubs to a 24-13 record in the final six weeks after Piniella retired.
So, Sandberg chose to leave the Cubs. The Phillies were happy to finally get him back.
Sandberg was diplomatic in talking about his exit from the Cubs' organization.
"I didn't think it was in the best interest for me or the Cubs or their ownership to be at the Triple-A level," Sandberg said. "I didn't think it would be fair to everyone involved, including the fans and the new manager, Mike Quade, with the perception of me waiting for something to go wrong in Chicago or for the ax to fall in Chicago. I wish Mike Quade and the ownership of the Cubs the best of luck. For me, this was the perfect fit."
Sandberg was a 10-time All-Star and won nine Gold Gloves during his 16-year career with the Cubs and Phillies. He finished his career with a .285 batting average, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBIs and 344 stolen bases. When he retired, his 277 homers as a second baseman was a major league record.
"Ryne impressed us in so many different ways," said Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager. "It's easy to know about his Hall of Fame playing, but we weren't going to dwell on his status. We wanted to hire the best manager and best player development person for the Phillies. Ryne is that."
Sandberg came up as a shortstop and played 13 games with the Phillies in 1981. In January 1982, he was traded along with five-time All-Star Larry Bowa to the Cubs for shortstop Ivan DeJesus.
Dallas Green, who managed the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980, was the Cubs general manager at the time. He insisted on getting Sandberg as a throw-in to complete the deal.
DeJesus batted .249 with seven homers and 139 RBIs in three seasons with the Phillies.
"Throughout my whole career and up until today, I've heard it more from Phillies fans that I've run into and how that was a tough one for them to swallow," Sandberg said. "What's kind of awesome about this opportunity is that I get to go back to where my roots started. I'm very excited about that."