The Phillies are off to an OK start. Their offense showed Monday they can score runs. Their newly acquired number 3 starter showed yesterday that he can pitch. There are bits of good news all around. In other words, in our 2 game small sample size, we can say for sure that the sky isn't yet falling, something that spring training gave every indication might happen immediately.
It's all good, right? Well, not if you're paying attention to what a couple of the key players are saying. Let's focus on Ryan Howard first. Howard batted in his usual cleanup spot on Monday and went 2 for 5 with a walk. Tuesday, rather than sticking with the lineup that scored 14 runs the day before, Ryne Sandberg tinkered, including moving Howard down in the lineup to 5th and moving Marlon Byrd up to cleanup.
This was the first time since June 29, 2008, that Howard hit somewhere other than 4th for the Phillies. Not unpredictably, Howard didn't seem too happy about it. In commenting to the media about the change, at first, he offered a comment by not commenting: "I don't make the lineup. Whatever the lineup is, that's what the lineup is."
But what followed is the big news.
"Yeah, it's noteworthy, but at the same time I see all the other stuff... I'm not even going to go there. You can talk to [Sandberg] about all that stuff. I really have nothing to say about it. I'm going to stay away from all of that. Just try to keep everything on the up and up. You say the wrong thing and then all of a sudden... people just misconstrue or whatever. That's not what I want to have happen."
This is clear as day. Ryan Howard is not going to talk about the situation because his new manager has created a situation where players have to walk on egg shells. "You say the wrong thing and then all of a sudden... people just misconstrue or whatever." Howard is talking about Sandberg and saying that Sandberg is quick to misinterpret and punish.
Remember when everyone and their mother was poopooing the Jimmy Rollins saga from spring training and saying that it was a meaningless non-story during the slow news of March? They were wrong. That's exactly the "all the other stuff" Howard was referring to. When Sandberg sat Rollins for three games in response to Rollins saying "who cares" about spring training results, the other players got the message loud and clear -- this manager is petty and will seek retribution if you say the wrong thing.
Monday's post-game comments from Sandberg and Rollins just add fuel to the fire. After Rollins hit his 200th home run on Monday, a second-inning game-charging grand slam, Sandberg didn't say what most reasonable human beings would, "Wow, that was a great way to put a charge into the team's season and notch an amazing career milestone, so kudos to Jimmy!"
Rather, Sandberg said the following: "I’m glad to get that one out of the way, but it came at a big time. Now just line drive and get on base and run the bases." As our own schmenkman noted, Rollins was told about Sandberg's comments and reportedly responded, "That WAS a line drive."
Ryne Sandberg may lead this team to greatness one day. He may know how to get the best out of his players. He may be a master at lineup construction and player useage. The future is unknown at this point.
But what is 100% clear right now is that Sandberg's bumbling interaction with his players is creating a clubhouse problem. And he's doing it with two of the most popular, easy-going, and likeable Phillies in the history of the franchise. Two Phillies who, unlike Sandberg, have won a World Series for this franchise.
Someone in the organization needs to fix this quick because this team has other players who are not going to take it as patiently and professionally as Rollins and Howard have. Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett are, to steal a term from my co-blogger Wet Luzinski, "known malcontents." Also using WL's language, there's also Cliff Lee, who is "a standoff prick of sorts" himself. Add in Chase Utley and his steely staring ways, and this mess could very rapidly become an all out clubhouse war with the manager.
Obviously, we're not there yet, but with Rollins and Howard already indirectly griping to the media about the way Sandberg rules with an iron fist, we might get there pretty soon.