When Torey Lovullo left the PawSox to become the first base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the people that Boston interviewed to replace him as Pawtucket’s manager was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
“It was very tempting – no doubt about it,” Sandberg told me. “I’m good friends with Terry Francona. I played with him for a year with the Cubs and played against him when he was with the Expos. He talked to me and told me that this was an organization that would welcome me so I flew into Boston and had my interview. I thought it went very well and it was an option that I took very seriously because it’s a top-notch organization that’s winning at the major league level.”
Prior to that job interview, Sandberg met with the Chicago Cubs about their managerial opening and was clearly the fans’ choice to get it. When the Cubs elected to stick with interim manager Mike Quade instead, Sandberg decided it was time to work for another organization and was hired as the manager of the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate – the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I wanted to continue down the career path that I was going,” Sandberg said. “24 hours later I started getting calls. The first call was from the Philadelphia Phillies, and I also interviewed with the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The Phillies uniform was the first one that I wore professionally – they drafted me out of high school in 1978. All of my minor league years were with the Phillies, and to go back to this organization considering where they stand right now in baseball and with the familiar voices that I heard on the telephone, I knew this was a spot where I thought I was a good fit.”
Sandberg was a 10-time All-Star and a 9-time Gold Glove Award winner and it’s highly unusual for a player of his caliber to manage in the minor leagues. In fact, he is the first person to manage in the International League after reaching the Hall of Fame as a player.
But Sandberg is clearly willing to pay his dues as he began managing at the Single-A level in 2007.
“It was difficult because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ryne told me. “I was a fish out of water going to the ballpark. Being in change of 24 guys…knowing the drills that I had to do…believe it or not, I’ve really the learned the game of baseball as a whole the last five years. I think there is a difference between coaching and being a player and maybe it’s not for everybody, but so far it’s for me.
“I think the thing that got me back into the game full-time was going into the Hall of Fame in 2005. I reflected back on the coaches and managers that helped me along the way and what professional baseball has meant to myself and my family. Once we got our five kids out of the house – which just happened about 6 years ago – I was wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. So this is what I want to do. I enjoy it – it’s my fifth year doing it – and I like where I am.”
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Spending a few minutes with Sandberg gave me the opportunity to ask him something that I’ve wondered about for years.
His unusual first name.
I remember reading that he was named for Ryne Duren – a pitcher in the 50’s and 60’s who was famous for his lousy vision and his blazing fastball.
Of the more than 17,000 players in major league history, why did his parents choose Ryne Duren as the inspiration for their son’s first name?
“My parents were in Minneapolis when the Yankees came to town and Ryne came in and I think he threw four scoreless innings,” Sandberg said. “The headlines the next day read, ‘Ryne Shuts Down Twins.’ It was an unusual name that stuck. For a lot of years I knew that I was named after him, but every year on the first day of school it was always spelled R-Y-A-N. It was mispronounced and misspelled for about 18 years, and then I went to the Cubs and kind of made a name for myself. Harry Carey helped out a lot and now there are probably a lot of Ryne’s out there and it’s a pretty special name for me.”
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The PawSox (12-7) climbed 5 games over .500 for the first time this year with a 7-2 win at Lehigh Valley on Tuesday.
Andrew Miller earned the win, allowing 2 runs (1 ER) on just 1 hit in 5.2 IP. His fastball sat at 93 mph and topped out at 97 mph. After 4 starts, Miller’s ERA is 1.40 and the league is batting a meager .138 against him.
Pawtucket’s offense was led by Josh Reddick who homered for the third time in his last four games, and J.C. Linares who had 3 hits and 2 RBI.
Brandon Duckworth (2-0, 0.48) will take the mound against his former team on Wednesday night at 7:05. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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