PHILADELPHIA - Ryne Sandberg returned to the minor leagues six years ago after a Hall of Fame playing career because he wanted to learn to be a major-league manager.
He also had a more practical reason.
"It also was the only job that was offered," Sandberg said with a laugh.
Sandberg's decision to manage in the minor leagues culminated Sunday when the Phillies removed his interim tag and named him their full-time manager. Sandberg, 54, signed a three-year contract with a club option for 2017.
"In a lot of ways, it's a dream job," Sandberg said during a news conference before the Phillies lost their final home game of the season to the New York Mets, 4-3.
Sandberg seemed at ease and showed a sense of humor during the announcement.
"I feel like a very large weight has been lifted off me," he said.
The Phillies players clapped and shouted "I see you!" when general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. announced to the team before the game that Sandberg would return as manager in 2014.
"I see you" is a pet phrase that Sandberg uses to compliment players after they do something well.
"You don't see a guy of his baseball caliber come up through the minor leagues," second baseman Chase Utley said. "He spent a lot of time on a lot of buses to get this opportunity. It's pretty cool."
The Phillies named Sandberg interim manager on Aug. 16 after the club fired Charlie Manuel. Sandberg managed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies' triple-A affiliate, in 2011 and 2012 and joined Manuel's staff this year as the third-base coach.
The Phillies are 18-17 under Sandberg, but the team has played with more passion and purpose than it did earlier in the season.
"This is a man who worked his way though the minor leagues," Amaro said. "He's got Hall of Fame credentials, but even before that he's a very good baseball man. I think he's going to carry us forward and do what's necessary for us to put another ring on our fingers."
Sandberg made his major-league debut as a player for the Phillies in 1981 before being traded to the Chicago Cubs before the 1982 season. In Chicago, he became one of the best second baseman in baseball history, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Nowadays not many Hall of Fame players become managers. It is hard to imagine a Hall of Fame player returning to the minor leagues and enduring the long bus rides and cheap motels that minor-league life entails. But that's what Sandberg did when he began his managerial career with a minor-league team in Peoria in the Cubs organization in 2007.
Sandberg said his time in the minors taught him how to communicate with players. He was by his own admission not much of a talker when he played.
"It was the right path," he said of going to the minor leagues. "Margaret (his wife) and I had a blast doing it. Being with 18- and 19-year-olds and people out of college and teaching them how to be professionals goes a long way with what I do today."
Sandberg joked that raising five children with his wife also improved his communication skills. Margaret sat in the front row during Sunday's news conference. Sandberg called her the biggest Phillies fan around.
"They were all teenagers at once," Sandberg said of his children. "Communication skills are really important there."
There were questions about Sandberg when the Phillies named him interim manager. Baseball experts wondered why the Cubs had passed him over when they hired managers in 2010 and 2012.
But Amaro said Sandberg has proven he deserves the job. The general manager said he was impressed with the way Sandberg handled the transition from Manuel. Amaro said Sandberg understands how the Phillies organization works.
There had also been speculation that the Phillies would wait until the offseason to hire a manager. Fans and media wondered if the Phillies would wait and see if a high-profile manager - like Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - became available. But Sunday's hiring ends that talk.
"Ryne understands what our organization is about, the continuity and the importance of working top to bottom," Amaro said. "This is the right guy for us."
The Phillies are 71-84. They are guaranteed their first losing season since 2002.
But on Sunday there was plenty of optimism about the future.
"I'm excited about the potential for next season," Sandberg said. "With this tough year, some good things have come out of it, and that's the experience of the younger players."
Sandberg said he will meet with Amaro soon to put together a coaching staff. Sandberg's hiring should be the first of many moves before the start of the 2014 season.
Among the questions confronting the Phillies are:
• Will Ryan Howard and fellow veterans Utley and Jimmy Rollins be healthy and productive in 2014?
• Should the Phillies re-sign free-agent catcher Carlos Ruiz and pitcher Roy Halladay?
• Will young players such as Cody Asche, Cesar Hernandez and Darin Ruf continue to develop and become integral parts of the team?
• Will the Phillies finally get the right-handed power bat they've lacked since Jayson Werth left after the 2010 season?
If the Phillies don't answer those questions correctly, it might not matter who the manger is next season.
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