He still hears from Phillies fans at memorabilia shows and All-Star Games about the 1982 trade that sent him and Larry Bowa to the Cubs for Ivan DeJesus. It remains one of the worst deals in franchise history, but Sandberg is finally back with the organization that drafted him in 1978. The Phillies announced on Monday that they have hired him to be the manager of their Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
"This is where my roots are," Sandberg said in a conference call. "This is where I learned to play baseball as a young player. In a lot of ways, I feel like a young kid again with this opportunity, almost reliving the days of 35 years ago, when I was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round. I look at this as going to an organization I definitely have ties to. I couldn't be happier about the situation."
Sandberg had hoped to be the Chicago Cubs' manager in 2011, but the organization chose to retain Mike Quade instead.
It is not a stretch to consider Sandberg as the heir apparent to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who will turn 67 in January. The Phillies are expected to sign Manuel to a contract extension in the upcoming weeks, which could keep him in a Phillies uniform until he retires. But if Sandberg sticks around, he could be next in line.
Sandberg managed the previous four seasons in Chicago's farm system, including last season with Triple-A Iowa. He earned Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year honors while leading the Iowa Cubs (82-62) to a tie for the best record in the Northern Division. But once the Cubs chose Quade, Sandberg informed the organization he would seek employment elsewhere.
"I didn't think it was in the best interest for me or the Cubs or ownership to be at the Triple-A level," Sandberg said. "I didn't think it would be fair to everybody involved, including the fans and the new manager, Mike Quade, with the perception of me waiting for something to go wrong in Chicago or for the axe to fall in Chicago.
"I take this job as Lehigh Valley with no expectations, no guarantees or promises about anything. I don't have any timeframe or anything. I've been offered this job, and I'm grateful for that."
Sandberg also interviewed for the Triple-A vacancy of the Boston Red Sox.
"Ryne impressed us in so many different ways," Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said. "We knew about his Hall of Fame playing. But as we told him at the beginning of the interview process, we wouldn't dwell on his Hall of Fame status. We're here to hire the best Triple-A manager and the best player development person for the Philadelphia Phillies. And obviously, he is that."
The Phillies still have vacancies to fill on their Minor League staffs. Mickey Morandini is expected to land a job, although his role is unclear. Mark Parent, who managed Class A Lakewood, could be promoted to Double-A Reading.
"We're just going through the process," LaMar said. "Hopefully, in the next week or so, we'll have most, if not all, of those positions filled. But obviously, this was a major position to fill, and we're awfully glad we were able to hire Ryne."
Sandberg completed an interesting circle in rejoining the Phillies. The club traded him partly because it felt it had no position to play him, but also because then-Cubs general manager Dallas Green insisted Sandberg be included in the deal.
The Phillies were desperate to trade Bowa because of a bitter contract dispute with club president Bill Giles. Green knew he had the Phillies in a tough spot, so Philadelphia eventually included Sandberg in the deal.
"Phillies fans come up and mention the trade and how it was a tough one for them to swallow," Sandberg said.
Sandberg said he heard about the trade while he was playing winter ball in Venezuela.
"I was somewhat surprised it involved three shortstops," Sandberg said. "At the time, the Phillies were just coming off the 1980 World Series championship. They had a stacked infield with Manny Trillo, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmdit, Pete Rose -- every position was basically an All-Star player.
"I was kind of anticipating or hoping to be a utility infielder for a while and break in that way with the Phillies, but when the trade happened, I was able to get 650 at-bats that first year in Chicago."
Sandberg won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1984. He made 10 NL All-Star teams and won nine Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards during his 16-year career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
"I didn't know what player I was going to turn into," Sandberg said. "But as time went on, people started talking about the trade. But it's kind of unfair in baseball, looking back at it. It allowed me an opportunity to [achieve something] elsewhere. These are the experiences I can share with the young players. I'll let them know people are watching, and all they can do is give the best effort and play the best baseball.
"Who knows? Maybe they're involved in a trade that puts them somewhere they can play every day to start a career at the Major League level."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.