by Ted Cox
Sandberg has managed the Phillies' Triple-A team the last two seasons, and all signs point to him succeeding Charlie Manuel as big-league manager when his contract runs out at the end of next season.
It's unusual, in this day and age, for a Hall of Famer to return as a coach or manager. Come to think of it, it's unusual in any age. Back in baseball's dark ages—before free agency—Hall of Famers made their reputation on the field and were rewarded afterward by businesses eager to put them in ceremonial positions. Nowadays, of course, a player who has put together a Hall-of-Fame career has had ample opportunity to make a lifetime's worth of money on the field, and Sandberg was for a time the highest-paid player in the majors.
Yet he was eager to return to the game in 2007 and boldly volunteered himself to be the Cubs' manager. The Cubs' general manager Jim Hendry nixed that—he never seemed to get the idea of Sandberg as manager—but offered to send him to Peoria instead. Sandberg accepted, rode the buses in the bushes, and nurtured some of the Cubs' budding players. (I saw Wellington Castillo play for Sandberg while doing a Reader cover story in 2007.)
Two years ago, after Sandberg had managed the Double-A Tennessee Smokies to the league finals, then moved up to Triple-A Iowa, where he led the Cubs' top farm club to a tie for first, Hendry could have pegged Sandberg to formally replace Lou Piniella. Instead, swayed by the Cubs' mirage of a September, he stuck with interim manager Mike Quade. That didn't turn out well for either, and Sandberg left for the Phillies' organization. Theo Epstein showed no interest in Sandberg a year ago when he arrived on the scene.
So it is that Sandberg will return to the bigs next year with the Phillies and most likely ascend to manager the following year. It could've been here—it should've been here—but in any case his pursuit of a big-league managing job is almost completed.