I’ll be the first to admit that I was raised with Ryno.
My first Cubs memories–of Larry Biittner, George Mitterwald, Jose Cardenal, and the rest–don’t include him, but the “Sandberg Game” in June of 1984 is seared into my memory. For the next decade after that, he was as much a part of the Cubs franchise as ivy on the outfield walls and chants of “Right Field Sucks!”
When the Cubs held Ryne Sandberg Day upon his retirement in 1997, I was out there in the bleachers, marveling at his stellar career, and our good fortune at having witnessed it all (except for that one hit he got in a Phillies uniform, and even that happened at Wrigley Field).
Ryno could never be known as “Mr. Cub” while Ernie Banks was alive. Even now, when Ernie Banks is no longer with us, I don’t think he could be afforded that moniker, out of respect for all that Ernie meant to the Cubs franchise. But the idea that one Hall-of-Famer spent his entire career with the Cubs–and was beloved by the fans as a result–is something that no other player besides Sandberg can lay claim to. Mark Grace couldn’t say this, or Shawon Dunston, or even Andre Dawson. But Ryno was not only a Cubs player, he was the Cubs player.
I hated that Ryno was passed over to manage the Cubs in favor of Dale Sveum. Sandberg spent years riding the bus in the minors, and paid his dues when practically every other player he played with was fishing or playing golf or offering color commentary for anyone who would put him on camera. If the Cubs didn’t want him, he’d find somebody who did. And that turned out to be his first organization, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Back in August of 2013, a month or so before I began writing for FiveWide, I wrote about how hard it would be seeing Ryne Sandberg in another team’s uniform at Wrigley Field. And after Dale Sveum was let go in October of 2013, one of the first pieces I wrote for this site was a reiteration that Sandberg would have been a better hire than Sveum was. But by then, the horse was out of the barn, and Ryno belonged to the Phillies, instead. Like seeing an old girlfriend with someone else, it was best to just accept it and move on, instead of wallowing in memories of what used to be.
And now comes word that Ryno is moving back to Chicago, unencumbered by any managerial responsibilities. The Cubs have a manager of their own in Joe Maddon, and all of the money that has been pledged to him already means that the giver of liquid largesse isn’t going anywhere. The Cubs have found their skipper, and his name is not Ryne Sandberg. So be it.
But there must be some way that Sandberg could be a part of what’s being built on the North side. Hell, if Manny Ramirez can be included in the Cubs fold, there’s no way that the living face of the franchise should be on the outside looking in.
As a practical matter, he’s shown that he can develop players, even if Starlin Castro is the only active Cubs player that he has managed in the minors.
On an emotional level, reaching the World Series–and then winning it–was something that Sandberg never got to do as a player. I promise that he doesn’t want to experience it with any franchise other than the Cubs. As a Cubs fan, I want to see him in that locker room as the champagne is spraying, and want to cheer for him in the victory parade along Clark Street.
Joe Maddon is the man at the helm of this team. Everybody, Sandberg included, will respect that. But Ryno’s baseball knowledge could be a fine asset to the team, as it seeks the reward that none of us have ever seen before. If there’s a good reason to keep him at arm’s length, please tell me what it is.