Every manager has their catchphrases, as evidenced by the fact nearly every player in every big league clubhouse can impersonate his manager's mannerisms and expressions upon request. "I see ya!" is one of Ryne Sandberg's, and players cheerily shouted it back to him when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announced in the clubhouse Sunday morning at Citizens Bank Park that Sandberg had just signed a three-year contract to be the 52nd manager in franchise history.
"The energy in the room was extraordinary," Amaro said during a news conference before the team's final home game of the season. "I'm kind of excited about it, frankly. This is a man who has worked his way through the Minor Leagues and he has unbelievable Hall of Fame credentials. But I think more importantly than that, he's a very, very good baseball man. I think he's going to carry us forward and do what's necessary to put another ring on our finger, and that's really the goal, to get back and be a world champion. I think we have a great start with Ryne Sandberg at the helm."
The fact Sandberg, 54, had the interim label shed from his job title is not a surprise. Sandberg has impressed everybody in the organization since he replaced Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16. The Phillies are 18-16 since, which is the sixth-best record in the National League. That is no small accomplishment. The Phillies had the fourth-worst record in the league when the club dismissed Manuel. They also are 25th in baseball averaging 3.84 runs per game, 26th in baseball with a 4.30 ERA and 27th in run differential at minus-121.
It is a team with many flaws, but the team has played better since the change.
But Amaro said he did not decide until last week to give Sandberg the full-time job. He could have waited to see if any current managers would become available, or he could have decided to simply interview numerous candidates to make sure he had the right man, but he said he felt he already had him.
"I am a positive guy and I like to do my work and let my work speak for itself," Sandberg said. "You never know in baseball, but I had a good feeling about what was going on here, and things felt good here. It felt good in the clubhouse. It felt good in the dugout."
Amaro told Sandberg and his agents Rex Gary and Jim Turner on Saturday afternoon it would happen, which meant a rapid contract negotiation. Gary and Turner arrived at the ballpark early Sunday morning to hammer out the final contract details.
The announcement happened a few hours later.
"It was very, very clear to me, right from the get-go that the way he handled the transition during a very, very difficult period and having to take over for an icon of sorts in our Phillies history in Charlie, it was very, very difficult circumstances and I think he handled it very, very well," Amaro said. "I think he handled the players well, the clubhouse very well. We kind of gave him free reign of what he needed to do and I really liked the instincts of how he handled things."
Sandberg held a few team meetings early in the transition, making his expectations clear to players. They responded to a more structured atmosphere.
Sandberg showed confidence in his abilities in those early meetings. His Hall of Fame credentials certainly helped, but Sandberg also managed six seasons in the Minor Leagues preparing him for this moment.
He called it a dream come true.
He also called it a relief.
"I think there's been a very large weight lifted off me," he said.
But now the expectations change. Nobody would have thought too much if the Phillies had continued to struggle under Sandberg because they are undermanned compared to the top teams in the NL. But beginning next season, Sandberg's job will be more closely dissected, discussed and analyzed.
He will be expected to win.
"Well, that's the goal," he said. "I think we have a very nice core of veteran players that will help lead the way: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, just to name a few. I think the bullpen has come a long way with the young arms this year in a growing year where that bullpen could actually be a bright spot next year, which could be a big help. Along with other decisions that have to be made and players to be talked about, I do like the fact the young players and how they've played and how they might fit in next year bringing energy and athleticism to the team. And with that combination, the goal is to contend every year and to get to a World Series.
"I think it's a bright future, I'm ecstatic about being here."