April 27, 2015
Ryne Sandberg is doing a terrible job managing the Phillies.
There, somebody finally said it.
Sandberg has been in charge for 20 months now, parts of three seasons, and the only thing he has mastered is the art of losing. Granted, the talent is lacking, but to fail as spectacularly as the Phils have, in every aspect of the game, is still an indictment of the manager and his old-school style.
The latest insult in this franchise free-fall came last Thursday afternoon, when the Phillies drew the smallest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park (17.097), the three biggest attractions – Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard – were all benched, and then the team bungled its way to a 9-1 loss against the pitiful Miami Marlins.
Even more significant is the way his players respond to him – the way the veterans barely hide their contempt, the way the young players ignore his advice. If Sandberg has any supporters in the clubhouse, they have not yet identified themselves.
Under normal conditions, the Phillies would have been booed off the field at the end of that game, but there was not a single whimper of dissent. Because there were no people left to express their disgust. The stands were as empty as the feeling this city has right now for a baseball team that won 102 games and filled every seat just four years ago.
So what happened? The stars got old, GM Ruben Amaro blew hundreds of millions on bad contracts and lousy trades, and Ryne Sandberg arrived to take a bad situation and make it much worse.
He’s been lucky that expectations are so low right now, he hasn’t received the same scrutiny most managers and coaches get in our city. People don’t care enough to notice how badly Sandberg has been managing.
His record (100-123) is only a small part of the problem. Even more significant is the way his players respond to him – the way the veterans barely hide their contempt, the way the young players ignore his advice. If Sandberg has any supporters in the clubhouse, they have not yet identified themselves.
For a while, Sandberg got the benefit of a doubt created by the loudest, least manageable personality in the clubhouse, Jimmy Rollins. In fact, Rollins is the only core player from the 2008 championship team who was traded away, because he was supposedly ruining the culture Sandberg was trying to create.
Well, Rollins is gone now, but there is no sign of the hustling, overachieving style that was supposed to replace his apathy. If anything, the culture is worse now, because the team has no identity.
Sandberg has not delivered on his promise of a team that plays the game the right way. Right now, the Phillies are among the league leaders in errors, physical and mental. Even Sandberg himself had to admit after that 9-1 debacle last week that the lack of fundamentals was “disappointing.”
Yes, it is, and so is Ryne Sandberg himself. As a baseball player, he was first-rate. As a person (I spoke to him on my radio show every week last season), he is first-rate, too. But as a manager, he is not.
His fatal flaw is communication. This shortcoming is often true of the biggest stars, who just assume that every player has their instinct to succeed. Sandberg knew what to do, without hesitation, as a player. But as a manager, he has demonstrated no ability to get his message across.
Just listen to the way he talks when he’s doing an interview. He has a robotic style that borders on the dictatorial, and that attitude is simply not going to work with today’s ballplayers. Coming after Manuel, whose one true skill was communication, this weakness is amplified.
When Sandberg ended up in the Phillies organization five years ago, there was a mystery surrounding his arrival. No one could figure out how the Cubs could consistently pass over a hero, one of the smartest players in Chicago sports history, as their own manager.
Unfortunately, now we know why.
As the Eagles move ever closer to the draft on Thursday night, one scenario appears more certain than any other. Coach/GM Chip Kelly will not use the 20th pick to select a college player. He will not stand pat. Because he never does.
Since he forced Howie Roseman out of the personnel department three months ago, Kelly has become the biggest story in the NFL for one obvious reason – unpredictability. Who else would trade the best running back in Eagles history, allow his best receiver to leave, acquire a quarterback who hasn’t been healthy for two years and sign (gasp) Tim Tebow? Nobody.
And that’s why every eye will be on Kelly Thursday night even though he currently owns only the 20th pick. Will he try to move up? Will he defy the naysayers and make a final bid for Marcus Mariota? Or have the past few months been nothing more than another misdirection play?
The answers to those questions are yes, yes and no. He still desperately wants Mariota. All you need to know is that the coach hasn’t spoken to his new quarterback, Sam Bradford, about a new deal. If Kelly truly loved Bradford, a long-term commitment would be his first priority. Mariota still represents to Kelly a much better option.
So what will the Eagles roster look like a week from now? Here are my admittedly off-the-wall predictions:
• Evan Mathis will be gone, replaced by a rookie lineman who will be cheaper and more submissive to the coach.
• Bradford will be out of here, too – to Cleveland, which sees him as a franchise quarterback.
• Johnny Manziel will be an Eagle, a player (much like Tebow) whom only Kelly values.
• And yes – Marcus Mariota will join his college coach in Philadelphia. He will be an Eagle.
That’s right. A week from now, Chip Kelly will have a quarterback corps of Marcus Mariota, Mark Sanchez, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow.
The dancing elephants are on their way. Let the circus begin.
Tony Romo is already preparing for his next career. The Cowboys quarterback is taking a stab at stand-up comedy. He tried his first joke last week when he predicted Dallas would win the Super Bowl next season.
Ha, ha, ha.
Yeah, sure. All they have to do is find someone to carry the ball 392 times and gain the 1,845 yards that DeMarco Murray did last season. No problem. Ha, ha.
The real story here is, the Cowboys are evil. For example, last season Dallas owner Jerry jones knew he wasn’t going to re-sign Murray, so he turned a great runner and fine young man into his own rented mule. Jones abused Murray last season. This year, Murray will abuse Jones, as a member of the Eagles. It’s only fair.
Far more despicable is what the Cowboys did after the running back signed here. Needing a new marquee player, Jones then thought it was a great idea to sign defensive end Greg Hardy, fresh off a season in exile because of domestic-abuse allegations, and a year after the Ray Rice debacle.
Last week, the NFL suspended Hardy for 10 games and revealed the results of its long investigation. Among its findings were that Hardy used physical force that caused his girlfriend, Nicole Holder, to land on a futon covered with at least four semi-automatic rifles, and shoved her against a wall in his apartment, leaving marks on her neck.
One day after the NFL issued its suspension, Hardy had to be separated from new teammate Davon Coleman after Coleman referred to his defensive line partner as “a wife beater.”
Oh, yeah. The Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl next season. Ha, ha, ha. Tony Romo is hilarious, isn’t he?
And finally . . .
• The Eagles are going to be an excellent team in 2015. If you don’t believe me, check with the NFL and its TV networks, which picked the Birds for five prime-time games in the new schedule. They believe in Chip Kelly. They think the roster shake-up will work. Sorry, cynics.
• When Chip Kelly doesn’t like you, pack your bags. That was true of DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and now, apparently, Chris Polk. The best option near the goal line the Birds have had in years, the young running back was often ignored at key moments last season, and now the coach has set him free. What did Polk do to alienate Kelly? Stay tuned.
• Jonathan Papelbon can’t figure out why he’s still on the Phillies, and the closer is not alone. If the Angels can trade a toxic, overpaid ex-star like Josh Hamilton – with a recurring drug problem, no less – can someone please explain how Papelbon, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz are still clogging up the roster here? Anybody?
• Ron Hextall is putting together an extensive list of candidates to replace Craig Berube as Flyers coach. The GM will work tirelessly to consider the many options and to interview the best of the bunch. Then chairman Ed Snider will swoop in and hire the best available former Flyer for the job. Bet on it.
• Bryan Price’s tirade last week called to mind a far better rant by Dallas Green in 1981, when the Phils’ skipper viciously ripped the local media for being too soft on his players. Price, the Cincinnati manager, used 77 f-bombs to tell reporters to support his team. Times sure have changed, haven’t they?