In some ways, the events of Friday – even before Max Scherzer took the mound at Citizens Bank Park to try to shut down the Philadelphia Phillies – were sad. Ryne Sandberg resigned as the Phillies’ manager, a swift fall for a Hall of Fame player who was widely respected for managing his way up through the minor leagues but found himself losing his clubhouse as Philadelphia lost game after sloppy game.
The resignation of Sandberg comes in the hours before the Phillies were to host Scherzer and the Washington Nationals in the first of three games in Philadelphia, and it came while the Phillies – just three years removed from a run of five straight postseason trips – have the worst record in baseball. They can’t hit, pitch or field, and now Sandberg has decided to escape before change inevitably followed.
This is, by any estimation, a mess. The Phillies are overseen by legendary executive Pat Gillick, who built teams in Toronto, Seattle and Baltimore before helping construct the core that won the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia. But Gillick is 77 and is only filling in for CEO David Montgomery, who is stricken with cancer. As one executive said earlier in the week, “Pat just wants to get back out and see players,” meaning scout, and that’s likely what he’ll end up doing.
Andy MacPhail, who was to determine the fate of Sandberg before Sandberg determined his own, will soon enter this fray. Whenever MacPhail is officially hired – reports are the move could happen this weekend – he will now have to decide on General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Amaro, who has overseen the decline while failing to trade the assets the Phillies have and re-stock the system with prospects, has very few defenders left in Philadelphia. The consensus is this: It would be surprising if MacPhail, or anyone who steps in, would keep him.
Sandberg, for his part, didn’t do himself any favors. After his career as a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, he swallowed pride and accomplishment and took a job, for the 2007 season, managing the Cubs’ Class A affiliate. Given the current environment, in which former big leaguers – Detroit’s Brad Ausmus, Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, Washington’s Matt Williams, on and on – get major league managerial jobs with little or no experience, Sandberg pursed his lips and pushed forward. Sandberg managed the Cubs Class A, AA and AAA teams, yet when Lou Piniella retired after the 2010 season, the lifelong Cub was passed over for the big seat in favor of Mike Quade.
Sandberg moved to Philadelphia’s Class AAA team, became the Phillies third base coach, and eventually he succeeded Charlie Manuel in August 2013 as Philadelphia’s manager. But the Phillies, with an aging core and a farm system bereft of talent, lost 89 games in 2014. This year, at 26-48, they are on pace to lose 105 games.
Last week, veteran Phillies second baseman Chase Utley showed visible displeasure on the mound when pitching coach Bob McClure visited outfielder Jeff Francouer in the middle of an inning. Francouer was filling in to rest a frazzled Philadelphia bullpen, but was being asked to pitch a second inning. When the reserved Utley upbraided McClure, he indirectly did the same to Sandberg. His tenure might as well have ended right then.
For the weekend, third base coach Pete Mackanin will serve as the interim manager, the Phillies said. By then, maybe MacPhail will be in place to restore some sense of order and direction. But for now, a Hall of Famer has stepped aside. And the rag-tag Phillies, baseball’s worst team, have 88 games remaining in what well could be their worst season in half a century.