NEW YORK -- One of the hidden additional responsibilities when a coach is promoted to manager in-season, as Ryne Sandberg was by the Phillies this month, is responding to text messages.
"Well first of all, with text messaging, everyone beat me to it," Sandberg told me from his manager's office in Citi Field on Monday afternoon, prior to a 2-1 win over the Mets. "After that first day, I got 195 text messages, which looked like a very big number on the phone, because on a normal basis, I might have five or ten. But I had 195, the next day had another 60, and another 50 the third day."
Life changed rapidly for Sandberg, who was unexpectedly named interim manager of the Phillies on August 16, and his cell phone demands were the least of it. The challenges looming were enormous, from replacing the most successful manager in Phillies history, Charlie Manuel, to navigating meetings he'd been part of just a day before, but now was expected to lead. And his responsibilities, which had been third base coaching and infield instructing, mushroomed exponentially.
But such a move also involves a human being, and Sandberg got the promotion he's been working so many years for without warning, replacing the man who brought him to the major league coaching staff in Manuel. Sandberg's manner itself is a fundamental change from Manuel's. Garrulousness has been replaced by stoic directness. Manuel's answers, so often, took country strolls to arrive at their conclusions. Sandberg's are bullet trains.
He's needed that focus. The ten days since have been a whirlwind, conducted without the benefit of even an off day. Sandberg said he got the news around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.
"First call was to -- we have five kids, my wife and I, ages range from 28 to 33 -- first call was to them, and family members. And then, like I said, it took me about three days to answer all the text messages, and all the congratulatory things that some people sent, even back from high school days... the only thing I was wondering was how they all got my number."
But there was no time to bask in it, that after six years managing in the minor leagues, Sandberg finally had a chance to prove he could manage a big league club. Friday morning began a busy day that included the first of a three-game series against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Dodgers.
First came a press conference. Sandberg believed it was important to keep the focus on Manuel and his accomplishments, even as he worked to make the transition as easy as possible for all involved, including himself.
"I wanted all the focus to be on Charlie Manuel, and what he'd done here," Sandberg said. "So I wanted that focus to be on him, what he'd meant to the organization, the World Series, the baseball that had been played here for nine years."
Accordingly, at his press conference, Sandberg said, "I recognize this day as Charlie Manuel Day."
But Sandberg knew this was a message he needed to get to his players as well, many of whom were likely to be reeling from the change. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and while Sandberg wanted the team to play better than they had been, their recent downturn in the standings having sealed Manuel's fate, he knew he needed to keep them comfortable as well.
In this way, Sandberg's most relevant experience may have been the four times he'd seen his own manager replaced in-season during his Hall of Fame tenure with the Chicago Cubs, in 1983, 1986, 1987 and 1991.
"I remember it as a player, and what I thought as a player," Sandberg said. "So I was able to put myself in the players' shoes for a moment... I just remember what a big deal it felt like. That this was a big deal. As a player, I was disappointed in the players' performances which probably, and did, have responsibility for a manager losing his job. So I could relate to that. That's why I wanted that very first day to be about Charlie. I wanted them to know I felt that... and then again, there was a time we needed to somewhat move on, and go about our business, and get back to work."
Sandberg had to strike a similarly difficult balance with the coaching staff in the meeting that followed, a group he went from participating in to leading. He entered that first meeting as manager mindful of balancing his need to take charge with not wanting to offend his colleagues, who now would be working under him.
"That took some thought," Sandberg said of his approach to his staff. "I would say that it wasn't the most perfect situation, initially. But I was given the title of interim manager, and I had managed in the minor leagues six years prior, and then four-and-a-half, nearly five months coach at the major league level. So I think the best thing was, the coaches knew me."
Sandberg said he doesn't arrive any earlier to assume his managerial duties -- "I got here early, regardless. I'm always early to the ballpark" -- but what he does when he gets there is fundamentally different.
"It's significant," Sandberg said. "It's wearing a different hat...it's the daily routine. One of the first things is making up the lineup."
That means spending more time on the job, even at home. It's become all-consuming, this gig he's worked years to get.
"The wheels started turning earlier," Sandberg said. "At night, thinking about players, thinking about what we need to work on, thinking about possible lineups. Getting up the next morning, thinking about some things, thinking about players, thinking about what we need to work on, thinking about lineups once again. And then, in-game strategy. A different way of looking at the game, as third base coach and infield instructor, and as a manager. So that was flipping a switch."
Sandberg said he's actually more focused on the parts of the job that don't involve the infield, like pitching changes and lineups, since that's the part of his responsibilities that are new right now.
"I was totally focused on the infielders," Sandberg said. "The positioning of them, the third base coaching job. I'm kind of a job-at-hand type of a guy, do my responsibilities. So that changed. Overnight."
Sandberg still doesn't know whether this interim manager tag will become a full-time gig. So he doesn't have the luxury of planning for October and beyond, when the season ends.
"I'm just leaving it that," Sandberg said. "I'm working under that title right now, and right now there's not too much looking forward, other than this season."
That's probably for the best, anyhow. Sandberg still hasn't had an off day since taking over, and he won't get one until September 5. So squeezing in a celebratory dinner out with his wife had to take place around the unrelenting pace of a baseball season.
"We just played ten straight," Sandberg said. "Had a homestand of ten. We went out to dinner one of those nights. Even if it was late. And at that point, I was pretty fired up about it, pumped, excited at the opportunity."