PHILADELPHIA - Ryne Sandberg made a decision six years ago that few baseball players of his caliber have made.
The Hall of Famer went back to the minor leagues to learn how to manage a team. Sandberg began his managing career with the Peoria Chiefs - a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Sandberg rode buses to such cosmopolitan locations as Appleton, Wis., and Clinton, Iowa.
Sandberg managed in the minors from 2007-12 and his decision not to take any short cuts to the big leagues culminated Friday when the Phillies named him interim manager. Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel, who was fired despite being the winningest manager in team history.
"Riding the buses for six years was time spent preparing for this," Sandberg, 53, said at his introductory news conference Friday afternoon. "Starting from the bottom and working up as a player, I know how I appreciated getting to the majors going through the minor leagues and the struggles. I went through the same thing as a manager."
Sandberg was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. How rare is it that he's now a major-league manager?
He's the just the third person to make his major-league managerial debut after being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player. The other two are Ted Williams (1969-72 with Washington Senators/Texas Rangers) and Luke Appling (40 games with the Kansas City Athletics in 1967).
Many talented players are unwilling to do the apprenticeship needed to become a big-league manager. Mike Schmidt lasted just one season as a manger in Philadelphia's minor-league system.
"There was a lot to be learned," Sandberg said. "Coaching and managing isn't for everybody, but I took to it right away."
Sandberg's willingness to go back to the minor leagues impressed the man he replaced.
"Ryne Sandberg, who he is, a Hall of Fame player who went back to the minor leagues and managed, definitely deserves a chance to manage in the major leagues," Manuel said. "He's a real good manager, and I love talking baseball with him."
Sandberg was one of the best second baseman in baseball history. He made his major-league debut in 1981 for the Phillies but then was traded to the Chicago Cubs in one of the worst trades in Philadelphia history. The Phillies sent Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Cubs in exchange for shortstop Ivan DeJesus, who hit a total of seven home runs and never batted higher than .257 in three seasons with the Phillies.
Meanwhile, all Sandberg did was play in 10 All-Star games in 16 seasons and win the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1984.
Friday was an emotional day for Sandberg and the Phillies. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called Sandberg on Thursday afternoon and told him he would be the club's new manager.
Sandberg had been the team's third-base coach, where he had drawn criticism for getting several runners thrown out at home plate. Sandberg also managed the Phillies' triple-A affiliate - the Lehigh Valley IronPigs - in 2011-12.
"Communication is No. 1 for me," Sandberg said when asked how he would manage. "I do like to make things happen in the game. I do like action. I like to put pressure on the defense. But I will say, all the players will have a chance to play."
Sandberg admitted Friday with a laugh that he almost grabbed a helmet and headed out to coach third base rather than stay in the dugout and manage the team.
"That wouldn't have been a good thing," he said. "I had to get the wheels turning as far as managing."
Sandberg addressed the players before the 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
"I let them know some of my expectations," he said. "I told them these are meaningful games, play the game the right way, have some life and try to win games. I used the word opportunity - the opportunity that is here for the players and the responsibility of being major-league players."
Sandberg, like all new managers, comes with a degree of uncertainty.
First, there is his personality. He doesn't exactly take over a room when he walks into it.
"He's a good baseball guy - very silent," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "I'm sure that's going to change now that he's at the head (of the team). It's going to be a different style of what he wants and how he goes about it. We'll see what that entails."
Sandberg seems to have the respect of his players. His past success on the field should guarantee that.
"Even though he's a quiet guy, when he speaks, everybody listens," said outfielder Domonic Brown, who played for Sandberg at Lehigh Valley.
There are also questions about how Sandberg will deal with the media. He was reticent to do interviews as a player.
But on Friday, his comments were straightforward and honest. He said the Phillies' play and has been lackadaisical the past few weeks and that needs to stop.
And then there's the question of why Sandberg hasn't gotten job a sooner. The Cubs passed him over twice - once for Mike Quade in 2010 and last year for Dale Sveum.
"Charlie and I talked about how we were surprised (Sandberg) didn't get an opportunity yet," Amaro said. "He has the qualities necessary to be a quality major-league manager. Time will tell, and we're keeping an open mind."
The Phillies have guaranteed Sandberg nothing. Amaro wouldn't say if the team would interview other candidates after the season. But the Phillies might be compelled to do so especially if someone like Mike Scioscia - the current Los Angeles Angels manager and an Upper Darby, Pa., native - became available.
In some ways, the Phillies are still trying to figure out the qualities they want in a new manager.
"We are analyzing, still today, on what kind of manager we would like to have," Amaro said. "As we constitute our club on the field, we'll be thinking about that and finding the right person to move us forward."
But what Sandberg does have is a chance - a chance to finish the process he began on opening day in 2007 when he managed his first game, guiding the Peoria Chiefs against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
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