It’s rare enough to have a Hall of Famer at the ballpark, but this weekend we had two of them at McCoy. Wade Boggs was in the house for his induction into the International League Hall of Fame. Across the field in the visitors’ dugout, sat Ryne Sandberg, Lehigh Valley manager and Cooperstown teammate of Boggs. In fact the two former infielders were inducted into the Baseball Hall together in 2005. When Boggs spoke to the throng in Pawtucket, he made certain to acknowledge Sandberg.
Sandberg is finishing his second year as Iron Pigs manager. He was, at one time a candidate for the PawSox’ position. “I enjoy it here in Lehigh Valley. We have a tremendous fan base, so the atmsphere is always great. We have a good group of guys here. I enjoy what I’m doing and this is a good place to do it.” Sandberg is thought to be the only man in I.L. history who was elected into the Hall before he became a league manager. In fact, it was his enshrinement that got him thinking. “When I got into the Hall in 2005, going through that process, I figured out that I really wanted to be back in unioform, in some capacity. After coaching in Spring Training as an instructor for 8 years, I made up my mind that I wanted to try this in 2007 in A Ball. My reflection back on past coaches and managers and the game in general, is really what helped me decide. I’m thrilled about it.”
Sandberg returns to Cooperstown every summer for the induction ceremonies. He says the Phillies are very good about giving him the time off. He looks forward to reuniting with his brethren annually. Last summer, outfielder Brandon Moss played for Ryno in Lehigh. The former PawSox standout told me that you’d never know the manager was a Hall of Famer. Sandberg considers that a compliment. “I talk to our guys on a daily basis, about how we’re all in this together. I’m out here to help them get better. Sweat and do all the things I need to do to help them. If that’s the message, that’s great. That’s how I went about my business as a player and I continue to do so as a manager. I take a lot of pride in preparation. Pre-game work. Quality work. Work hard and have fun.”
As a Hall member, Sandberg hears the ongoing debate about steroid users and whether they should be included in Cooperstown. He doesn’t shy away from offering an opinion. “The conversation needs to be had. It was a big part of the game. However long it went on, those were baseball games that were played. I think it’s going to be very tough to put any of their plaques up in the Hall of Fame. It’s up to the sportswriters and baseball. It’s going to be a tough road to travel. These players played and I don’t think you can disregard this part of history. If there’s a compromise to recognize these players, OK. But remember, The Hall is about stats. It’s about character and integrity and playing the game the right way. Players that boosted their stats by breaking the law and going against the rules…I think that will speak for itself.”