Sandberg uses playoffs as teaching tool
Hall of Famer 'managing' year round, watching Cubs' October
MESA, Ariz. -- As the 40-plus Minor League players at the Cubs instructional league facility gathered Friday, Ryne Sandberg asked if they had watched Game 2 of the National League Division Series the night before.
Did they see the player who led off the fifth inning and hit a ball off the left-field wall? Did they see that player not hustle on his way to first? He got halfway to second and had to go back because the Arizona Diamondbacks outfield retrieved the ball quickly and hustled the throw. Did they see that?
The Cubs were trailing, 6-2, to the Diamondbacks at the time, and Sandberg's point was that if that player had hustled to second, there was a chance he could've scored. The Cubs lost, 8-4, and now trail the best-of-five series two games to none. They face elimination on Saturday.
Sandberg, who made his managerial debut this past season at Class A Peoria, believes in playing the game right. It was the theme of his Hall of Fame speech in Cooperstown.
"It's a learning situation for these guys," the former Cubs second baseman said. "I asked if they watched the game, and they said they did. This is what I took from it -- there was a play, and a player got embarrassed and heard it from his fans that it was not a good play, and it was very obvious."
Sandberg was sitting near the Cubs dugout Thursday and heard the disappointed fans razzing the player. Who was it? Alfonso Soriano, although Sandberg didn't mention him by name to the kids.
"These are the future Cubs, and you don't want that to happen again," Sandberg said of Soriano's play. "As an organization, we stressed good baserunning and hustle this year. From what I was told, there was a real good improvement on it. It's a learning experience for 50 guys."
Sandberg sees players like Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Sam Fuld playing the game the right way. He also sees it in the young Diamondbacks.
"What I see is the Diamondbacks have a whole team of those guys," Sandberg said. "You see them, they're young players who are in the mold of Theriot, Fontenot and Fuld, and you see a difference."
The Cubs, who are hitting .179 so far in the NLDS and haven't been able to get any offense going against the D-backs pitching, will find out Saturday if it's too late.
Sandberg could be on the golf course now, instead of hitting fungoes or working with youngsters on how to turn a double play.
"This is what I'm doing now," he said. "This is what I'm doing with my life, and this is my focus. I think I've played four rounds of golf since Spring Training. It's not a priority. Besides that, sometimes you lay off [golf] a little bit and go out there and have some good rounds.
"I'm focused on the baseball thing. This is a lot of fun."
He has about eight players in Mesa, Ariz., who were with him in Peoria, and some others who were promoted to Class A Daytona. He's trying to help educate the players, many of whom are used to working out three days a week with their baseball teams, not seven, eight hours a day.
Sandberg has been evaluating himself as well after his rookie year.
"It was a total learning experience," he said. "I definitely analyzed the game afterward, the good and the bad. I thought more about the bad things after a loss and maybe something I could've done a little differently. That stuck with me longer than the good things. Sure enough, there was a game the next day and if the same situation came up, I learned from it."
As a player, Sandberg was quiet. As a manager, he was ejected four times, more than Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who was tossed once.
"I learned that was part of it for me," Sandberg said. "Sitting over there, a lot of things are out of your control, but sticking up for your players is totally in my control. You see a couple calls not quite go your way, questionable borderline calls, and you get a couple of those that don't go your way, and I took it personally. I thought my team is trying to win a game, too."
Not only that, but he watches the game differently now. Sandberg isn't second guessing Piniella or anyone else. He realized there is more to think about when you're the manager and not a second baseman.
"I was focused on my job [as a player], and working well with the first baseman and the shortstop and the pitcher and a little bit with the outfield," he said. "The managing thing really expands that. You're not only thinking about the guys in the lineup, or the batting order, but you're thinking about the guys on the bench, and tomorrow, and who needs to get in there tomorrow and who needs at-bats."
Dealing with the pitchers was a new experience, too.
"[Managing] is a lot of thinking," Sandberg said. "You get into it and get on a roll, and there's always the game the next day. Sometimes you're looking two or three days in advance.
"The wheels were turning all summer."
He can understand the Cubs fans' angst now as the team, in the postseason for the first time since 2003, faces a short October.
"It would've been nice to get a 'W' here," he said of the two games against the D-backs at Chase Field. "Our backs are against the wall, but this team has bounced back numerous times this year.
"Getting back to Wrigley Field, it'll be a different atmosphere -- not only for the Cubs but for the Diamondbacks, who seem to really have a comfortable feel here. They have the crowd on their side, familiar territory with the field and what the ball looks like coming in to the hitters. What the [Cubs] players can do now is do good things and get that momentum and get the fans going and get the home field going on their side."
Sandberg attended both games at Chase Field, and isn't a big fan of the noise and psychedelic signs. It's definitely the anti-Wrigley. But he is thinking about what it would be like to be in that dugout someday, managing in the big leagues. It's his goal now.
"I'm sure we'll have some talks," he said about where he will manage in 2008. "Now is not the time.
"I'm dedicated to it and focused on it."
And determined to play the game the right way.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.