Sizing Up Sandberg: Phills offer no support for skipper

It’s been a rough month for Ryne Sandberg. Not only is he struggling to get his team out of the basement of the National League East, seemingly being a terrible motivator. Now, for Ryno, it’s one thing to be overmatched on the field in strategy in his first season. We’ve talked at length about his bizarre moves and ideas, like expecting Kyle Kendrick to execute a run-scoring play at the plate, or playing Dom Brown over two much better players. But things have taken a much different twist and have really escalated, as the players have indicated a clear lack of respect for their manager, something that never surfaced for any prolonged period under Charlie Manuel.  

Each case is different, so let’s go player-by-player:

Ryan Howard: Howard was benched for three days in late July, because the manager said he wanted to see Darin Ruf—a player he clearly wants nothing to do with, playing him over the worst player in the big leagues. But then Sandberg passive aggressively ripped Howard, implying that he’s not his type of ball player, saying before benching him, "I do think it's important to have players who fit my type of players," Sandberg said July 18. "That's important going forward. I think getting younger will be a step going forward."

He elaborated on what that type of player is:

"An energy player," he said. "Versatile player. A baseball player. Does the little things. A guy that knows the game and plays the game the right away."

Howard seemed to have an issue when asked by reporters about the situation, saying, “Talk to the manager.”

Clearly, Sandberg was disrespectful to one of the most valuable Phillies in franchise history, implying he’s not a player with which you can win.

Kyle Kendrick/(A.J. Burnett): This one is more about Kyle Kendrick, but I’m going to lump A.J. Burnett in here as well. Both players clearly were upset with being pulled from games two weeks ago, though Kendrick was more demonstrative. Walking off the mound about to be yanked, he did not wait for Sandberg to get there, instead handing the ball off while passing by him.

I’m not going to fault Kendrick for being upset. I’m sure in some “unwritten rule books”, Kendrick did not follow protocol. But think about what happened earlier: Howard botched an infield pop-up, Dom Brown failed to catch a routine fly (can you believe it?), and Marlon Byrd played a double into a triple. He had no support whatsoever, and I’d venture to bet he was more upset with the way the game unfolded in the field behind him, not necessarily at Sandberg for pulling him from the game. A.J. Burnett was likely upset at himself for allowing a 2-0 game to turn to 5-0, but he slammed the ball into Sandberg’s hands.

This is a mixed bag here. While they were not directly upset with Sandberg (a reasonable assumption), the fact of the matter is they have no hesitation in showing up their manager.

Dom Brown: This one was flat out ridiculous. In a week, a season, and a career of gaffes and horrendous play, Dom Brown seemed to half-heartedly pursue a fly ball, then took his sweet time throwing to third base, only to throw the ball away. After the game, Brown indicated that it’s because Sandberg is not playing him enough is the reason why he can’t catch a fly ball. News flash Brown: you were not a gold-glover even before you lost your playing time—something Ryno pointed out himself. I see no logical conclusion other than to side with Sandberg on this one.

David Buchanan: This is similar to Brown, in that it is a guy without a leg on to stand on speaking up, but it’s not that big of a deal. Buchanan simply said he got caught off-guard getting pulled after five innings. Sandberg probably made the right move to pull him. I’m not exactly sure Buchanan was saying it was the wrong move, but just that he was caught off guard. I lean towards chalking this up as a young kid misspeaking and not meaning to show up his manager. He just used a less-than-ideal choice of words, as they were left open to be twisted.

Bottom line, however, is that when there is a track record of players disrespectful towards the manager, a case like this is just another one to add to the pile—especially when three other pitchers have been seemingly upset upon departing the game.

Cole Hamels: This is the strangest of all the cases. Hamels of course is a diva, as you likely recall, “I can’t wait for this season to end” and seemingly throwing at Bryce Harper out of jealousy.

Hamels was cruising through six innings Tuesday night, only to run into trouble in the seventh. In the eighth, he gave up a solo home run to the not-so-dangerous Asdrubal Cabrera and surrendered the lead. Tied at three, Sandberg lifted him for one of his two best relievers, Ken Giles. With three dangerous Nationals hitters up, Giles came in and struck out the side. Hamels after words indicated he was upset with Sandberg by not directly answering if he was upset that he was pulled.

What makes this one so bizarre is that Sandberg clearly made the right move, as you can’t argue with striking out the side. But Hamels’ comments came after the game, after he witnessed the feat by Giles himself. Yet, he did not endorse his manager by saying something along the lines of, “Well Ryno made the right call, as Giles got the job done.” Hamels is the ace of the staff, so he may feel a bit sensitive getting lifted after throwing less than 90 pitches.

Overall, the bottom line in all these cases is that no player seems to willing to back their manager. No one at any point has indicated that they are on board with what he is doing nor that they respect him. While it is tough to say they blantantly hate playing for him and he’s lost the team, the evidence shows that no one is quick to offer any type of support whatsoever. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward.