At his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2005, Ryne Sandberg gravitated toward his people. Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Joe Morgan, Robin Yount. Second basemen, shortstops, guys who could play their position well and hit for average and hit it out of the park.
Two summers later, Sandberg naturally gravitated toward his people again at the annual ceremony. Only this time the names were guys like Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver -- ham-and-eggers as players, world champions as managers.
"They're all so different but all the same in one fashion," Sandberg was saying. "The common thread is they talk so adamantly and they so admire the players from their former teams. I think they all motivated and got the most out of their players. And I think that's what each one of their players will say about those managers, that they got the most out of us.
"That's the bottom line about being a good manager."
After an offseason in which he was passed over for some prime big-league managing jobs, Sandberg, 52, will return to manage the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies' Triple A affiliate this spring. It is his second year in Allentown, but his sixth as a minor league manager overall.
When the Cubs fired both their manager and general manager following a disappointing season, Sandberg's return home seemed a foregone conclusion. But one of Theo Epstein's first phone calls as new Cubs GM was to tell the beloved Chicago icon that he was not a candidate. Across town, White Sox GM Kenny Williams was hiring his own icon, Robin Ventura.
Only the St. Louis Cardinals interviewed Sandberg, a process that lasted two hours. They then hired Mike Matheny, a former catcher who had played with them in the first part of the last decade. Neither Ventura nor Matheny have any professional managing experience. Only Epstein's choice, Dale Sveum, had paid any dues, first as a Double A manager and later as coach for Boston and Milwaukee.
"To think that there have been managers hired this winter who have no coaching or managing experience whatsoever," Sandberg said. "I think that could be very tough on them. They may not know what they would be getting into."
One thought is that the Cardinals like the remaining chemistry of Tony La Russa's staff, particularly pitching coach Dave Duncan and hitting coach Mark McGwire. McGwire might someday be manager material, but he is still too close to his steroid scandal and the timing, following a championship and La Russa, would be bad. At $750,000 a year, Matheny might have been hired to coordinate as much as manage.
Similarly, the reluctance of Epstein to hire a local icon is understandable. He loses in the court of public opinion should the two have differences. Sveum is someone he has hired already and thus knows better. And it's easy to understand why the White Sox, often considered second citizens in the Second City, would want their own homegrown hero over the Cubs' homegrown hero.
Still, no other Hall of Famer has taken such an arduous road; the likes of Ted Williams, Yogi Berra and Frank Robinson didn't have to manage in the minors. Players less accomplished and celebrated than Sandberg have made the jump straight to managing in the majors without the benefit of minor league seasoning, and he has been lauded for his successes in both the Cubs' and Phillies' minor league systems.
Despite all that, he believes in paying dues.
"Until a guy has the experience of calling a guy into the office or having a team meeting or chewing out the players or sticking up for players with the umpires or running the game," he said. "As a player, I just thought about myself at second base and being ready ... But as far as organizing a pregame workout or figuring out what drills to do and all the positions? And how to motivate players and how to discipline players? Through these years, I've come up with my style that works for me and I'm comfortable with it. But before that I didn't have a method and I didn't have a style."
He laughed hard. Sandberg came to the Phillies after he was passed over as Lou Piniella's replacement in Chicago. Now, with Charlie Manuel signed for the next two seasons and coming off a 102-win season, his path appears blocked here as well.
He doesn't sound deterred, though. He knows Weaver toiled in the bushes for 11 1/2 seasons before getting his shot with the Orioles. At first a scout after his playing days, Lasorda waited 16 years in Dodger blue before getting his chance to manage in the big leagues.
They weren't Hall of Famers back then, of course. But they are now.
"They follow me, follow the team," Sandberg said of Weaver and Lasorda. "I go to Cooperstown, they're asking me questions now."