While speaking to reporters last night before the Phillies' annual Winter Banquet, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg confirmed what most of us had surmised during last year's fetid, steaming garbage heap of a season: the Phillies clubhouse was a mess. His exact words: "I didn't think we had a good clubhouse last year". Well, at least he knows!
So what, specifically, was the problem? From Ryan Lawrence's piece on Philly.com (which is an interesting take, I suggest you read it), Sandberg does have a theory:
"I think it was an atmosphere where maybe some of the younger players and some of the players with a few years in, they just couldn't be themselves," Sandberg said. "I don't know. It was really a hard thing to put my finger on as it went along.
"That's why it went a while without getting fixed until realizing it, after the season, I'd say."
I'm really trying to push aside the image I have in my head of Ben Revere hastily hiding his "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" gear in his locker so no one will see. I have to push that aside, because what Sandberg is describing sounds utterly miserable. What an unpleasant atmosphere to have to work in every day. I'm imagining this boring clubhouse filled with a lot of throat clearing and uncomfortable, oddly deferential silences. That would suck the will to live right out of me. People tend to be at their best when they're comfortable, and I can't see a way that "I can't be myself at work" could ever be that.
As far as how Sandberg is going to fix this, he's going to try this newfangled strategy called "communication", which I understand to be talking with people about what you're thinking and feeling, and then listening to what others are thinking and feeling. At this point, anything's worth a shot, am I right? I'm also guessing that setting expectations for clubhouse behavior will be part of that exchange, so guys can stop being overbearing clubhouse bummers with big old sticks up their butts.
Sandberg also spoke in glowing terms about the (relative) influx of youth onto the team. Also from Lawrence's piece:
"With younger players and younger energy, sometimes you can get more work in - and the players can get better under those [circumstances]," he said. "I'm looking forward to younger faces, some energy and some players that want to prove themselves and do that with energy, who play hard and hustle and mix that in with the rest of our group."
In that short statement, Sandberg said the word "younger" three times, and the word "energy" three times. I'm just guessing here, but this could actually be code for "I've had my fill of the veteran players, thank you."
I wasn't wild about Ryne Sandberg's managing last year -- I thought he was frequently overmatched. And I'm not feeling too positive about how he's going to do this year. But I'm glad that he realized there was a problem and has a strategy to fix it. And I'm even happier that he's talking about this to the media. I'm still not used to this team readily admitting that things are bad. And on top of it, Sandberg is welcoming change! More communication and younger players! The Phillies may super duper suck this season, but at least some things are moving in the right (or not-wrong) direction.