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Sandberg's managing style: Work hard, trust instincts
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Iowa Cubs manager Ryne Sandberg


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Published: 8/24/2010 4:21 PM

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DES MOINES, Iowa - As popular a player as Ryne Sandberg was with the Cubs, he's somewhat of a mystery as a manager.

That's to be expected. He's labored in the minor leagues for four years, and most fans of the big-league team have not seen him work.

The record certainly is good. Sandberg's Class A Peoria team tied for a half-season division title in 2007. He led Class AA Tennessee to the Southern League championship series last year, and he currently has the Cubs' Class AAA Iowa farm club poised to make the playoffs in the Pacific Coast League.

Like all minor-league managers, Sandberg is on the field early, sometimes 1 p.m. for a 7 o'clock game. He hits grounders and flyballs, throws batting practice and coaches third base.

Tuesday morning, he had his I-Cubs on the field at about 10 a.m. for a light session of outfield and infield work. Sandberg hit fungoes and let his players engage in some lighthearted banter.

"You might consider getting your mug in front of it," veteran infielder Bobby Scales told catcher Chris Robinson after Robinson missed a throw home.

Robinson said the same thing to Scales a minute later.

"Too good-looking," Scales said of his own mug.

Fun and business at the same time.

"My style is I work hard at it," Sandberg said. "I feel like I'm prepared every day. I do my homework. I come to the ballpark, and I relay any message that I need to relay to the players. I get that off my chest. I talk to the players, either individually or as a group, what I'm feeling, and I think the players appreciate that. And I think they respond to that. I've jumped on their (butts) at times. I've patted them on the back."

The job of major-league manager is also multifaceted, but there are some key differences. The big-league manager has a larger coaching staff, which includes a bench coach, who may serve as sounding board or alter ego, depending on what's needed.

Media scrutiny is amped up in the major leagues, and the manager must deal with players whose paychecks contain many more zeros to the left of the decimal point.

Sandberg is a candidate to become the manager of the Cubs for 2011. The Hall of Fame player discussed several aspect of managing.

In-game managing: Part of the fun of following baseball is discussing the manager's moves the next day. Sandberg says he prefers an aggressive style of managing.

"I think I go with what players I have," he said. "I let the players use their abilities and what they're capable of doing. If they're capable of stealing bases, I'm going to give them the green light. I'm going to teach them to pick their spots and to get a base when they can get a base.

"I like movement on the bases. I like to hit-and-run. I like to go for the win and force the issue and try to win a game as opposed to sitting back.

"It's somewhat gut feeling. It's somewhat experience. It's all those things making a split-(second) decision. It's whatever the game calls for at that time, and whatever my instincts tell me to do."

Dealing with the media: A taciturn player, Sandberg has gotten ejected from his fair share of games in the minor leagues. He also seems to have grown more comfortable dealing with the media.

There doesn't seem to be a magic formula. Even veteran managers such as Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker found the Chicago media tougher than advertised at times.

"I've had a small taste of that the last four years, a small taste," Sandberg said. "That's a big part of the job, along with handling the dugout and the locker room and handling the players. That'll be more of a daily job that I've done here, but it's a big part of the job. That's the next step."

And when Sandberg is asked by the media why he didn't bunt or trot out a different lineup?

"I'll have answers for that," he said. "Those are questions that need to be answered. To deal with that is part of the daily job as a manager."

Handling big-leaguers: Sandberg laid the law down to Carlos Zambrano this year when Zambrano went to Iowa for a rehab stint. He told Zambrano he expected him to work hard so he could return to the major leagues.

It'll be different, though, on a daily basis.

"Of course," he said. "That will be different. Going from A-ball to Double-A was different. Going from Double-A to Triple-A was different. I've made adjustments. I've learned. I've experienced that. I would experience that at the major-league level. I feel I have a way of doing things that I feel is my way of doing things. I think there's an organizational way of doing things."

The stats revolution: Many major-league front offices employ statistical analysts who have input into the procurement of players.

From there, it's up to the manager to use those players. Most managers don't throw around sabermetric terms such as VORP, WARP and fielding-independent pitching, but they usually know what they mean in different terms.

When former manager Lou Piniella was talking about a pitcher's baserunners per inning one day, he was really talking about WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).

"There are facts there," Sandberg said. "There are stats there that mean something. What you can do with that is accumulate that type of information and relay that to the players, if necessary. You can have certain guys that you want to be aware of those type of things that that's their job in the lineup, primarily at the top of the order, making the opposition work a little bit and making the pitcher work.

"There are other guys you want to go up there, with a guy on base, you want them to be aggressive and swing the bat and make something happen. All that information you can use."