PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies began their transition to the future Thursday afternoon.
Philadelphia named Ryne Sandberg its third-base coach for the 2013 season. The move came one day after the Phillies finished the 2012 season 81-81 and in third place in the National League East, 17 games back of the first-place Washington Nationals.
Sandberg, who was a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Chicago Cubs, managed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ triple-A affiliate, the past two seasons. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who will be 69 when the 2013 season begins, is entering the final year of his contract.
Sandberg, 53, would seem to be the manager-in-waiting.
“Obviously, that’s the sexy thing to think about,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday. “But the fact of the matter is, he’s not the heir apparent. We’ve made no promises to Ryne Sandberg.”
But the first time the 2013 Phillies go on an extended losing streak, fans and media are bound to wonder — no matter what Amaro said Thursday — if the club will fire Manuel and promote Sandberg.
Manuel said Thursday he’s not worried about Sandberg’s presence.
“That doesn’t put any pressure on me,” Manuel said.
Manuel has led the Phillies to five division titles and the 2008 World Series title in his eight seasons. Manuel is the winningest manager in club history with 727 wins. Manuel also said he’s fine with entering the 2013 season as a lame-duck manager.
“I know how old I am,” Manuel said. “I have a favorite saying, ‘Know thyself.’ I know myself. I still have a lot of passion. I still love baseball. I think my contract is fine. At the end of (2013), I’ll be glad to sit down and not only take inventory of myself but talk to people and see where I’m at.”
Manuel might, in many ways, be Sandberg’s biggest supporter. Sandberg spent September with the Phillies after the minor-league season ended. Manuel said Sandberg will be in charge of the infield and lend some hitting advice.
And if Manuel gets tossed from a game for arguing with umpires, Sandberg will manage the team.
“I absolutely like everything about him,” Manuel said. “I get along real well with him. I question him all the time because I want to see what kind of knowledge he’s got and how close he is with me and things like that. I think it’s going to be real good.”
Sandberg, who was not at the news conference, made his major-league debut with the Phillies in 1981. But Philadelphia traded him to the Chicago Cubs after that season. Sandberg was the 1984 NL Most Valuable Player. He made 10 All-Star teams and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Amaro said the Phillies will allow Sandberg to pursue other major-league managing jobs. The Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox have openings.
It’s worth wondering, however, if the Phillies would let Sandberg get away as a player and then again as a manager.
Sandberg’s hiring was one of several coaching moves the Phillies made the past two days.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia did not renew the contracts of hitting coach Greg Gross, bench coach Pete Mackanin and first-base coach Sam Perlozzo.
On Thursday, the Phillies announced the rehiring of pitching coach Rich Dubee. They also offered this year’s third-base coach, Juan Samuel, the first-base coaching job. The club named Steve Henderson its hitting coach and Rod Nichols the bullpen coach. Nichols was their triple-A pitching coach this past season under Sandberg. Mick Billmeyer will move from bullpen coach to catching coach. The Phillies also plan to hire an assistant hitting coach. Philadelphia will not have a designated bench coach next season.
“Anytime you make coaching changes, I don’t like them and I’m sure Ruben doesn’t like them,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, I thought it was important we did some things. What we did required someone to lose their job. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a good coach. I’ve always thought sometimes change is good whether it’s a player, a coach or the manager.”
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