GROSS: Rollins says Philly was 'rough place' when Sandberg was manager
PHILADELPHIA — Much of what Jimmy Rollins said sitting in the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park for the first time ever Tuesday afternoon was about his first return to Philadelphia after being traded this past offseason.
It's no surprise that would be the topic of conversation before taking batting practice. He played in the same city for the first 15 years of his career and he owns the franchise's all-time hits record.
But what wasn't expected was Rollins revealing the lack of communication between former Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg and the team before the Phillies topped the Dodgers 6-2 to take Game 1 of a three-game series.
This wasn't the first time he talked about the issues he felt Sandberg had while at the helm of the Phillies, however, it was the first time he aired them publicly. Rollins said following his final season with the Phillies, he informed general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about his concerns regarding the Hall of Famer's managing.
"I talked about that with Ruben after the season that it was something that he needed to work on because he is Ryne Sandberg and he is the manager," Rollins said. "So as a manager, you have to deal with 25 personalities. Actually more because guys get hurt and guys come up [from the minors]. So it isn't just about the X's and O's and executing the game plan.
"When you manage, you have to manage the players. You manage the game during the game time. In the meantime, you have to manage the players. But obviously whatever happened over here [in Philadelphia], he took it upon himself to say he didn't really want to be a part of it anymore."
Rollins was referring to when Sandberg abruptly resigned June 26 leaving Pete Mackanin to step in as interim manager.
Since Mackanin took over managing duties, he has been seen in the clubhouse very often, lightening the mood and communicating with players. Sandberg didn't make the same effort and Rollins recognized that.
"It was a rough place," Rollins said. "But that is where communication comes in. When you are able to talk things through and fix those rough patches or not even have them. But it just didn't work out that way."
Even though Rollins spent his entire career in Philadelphia prior to this season, he had other managers to compare Sandberg with, like Charlie Manuel and current bench coach Larry Bowa.
"He was different than [both of them] at the time," Rollins said. "You can't expect to have the same guy in there. His personality and being Ryne Sandberg was established long before he became a manager. When he got here we had him for a year at third base and we knew he was very quiet. As a manager, you have to be more open because you have to deal with different personalities. Obviously, there was a difference with all three of them. And you could see it too."
Ironically, hours after telling all about Sandberg, Rollins tied him for 123rd on Major League Baseball's all-time hit list with 2,386 in his second at-bat of the night.
He didn't stop there, picking up another hit in the fifth, going 2-for-5, and passing Sandberg on the all-time list. Rollins did, however, strike out looking at the most crucial point of the game for the Dodgers, down three with runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth.
Team excels under Mackanin: It's possible Rollins is on to something, though, concerning the Phillies under Sandberg's leadership.
With essentially the same roster, if anything worse now that the Phillies parted ways with Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere and Jonathan Papelbon last week, Mackanin has the team playing way better than expected.
In the 16 games since the All-Star break, the team is a major league-best 13-3, and the Phillies ranked third in baseball in bullpen ERA (2.01), batting average (.289) and run differential (+31) heading into the series opener against the Dodgers. That's a complete difference from the first half of the season when the Phillies ranked 21st or worse in each of those categories, including dead last in run differential (-160).
But is all that Mackanin's doing? Sounds like it's possible, according to Rollins, who knows Mackanin very well from his time in Philadelphia.
"You get some experience at the helm," Rollins said. "He's in that sense the complete opposite [of Sandberg]. He's always talking, cracking jokes, keeping things light. And he knows the game. That's why he's always been in baseball and been kept around. Because he does know the game and he keeps things light."
The magic continued under Mackanin Tuesday night, thanks to Maikel Franco's first career grand slam — the first by a Phillies rookie since Ryan Howard hit one on Sept. 21, 2005, in Atlanta.
After the Phillies jumped on the board in the third on Odubel Herrera's RBI single and the Dodgers tied it at 1-1 in the fifth with three singles, Franco blew the game open in the seventh.
Carlos Ruiz led off the inning with a single and Cesar Hernandez was intentionally walked with one out. Then, while facing Herrera, Dodgers' starter Alex Wood had the ball slip out of his hand and roll toward first base. Ruiz took off and scored from second, but per MLB rule 8.01(d), Ruiz was sent back to third. The play was scored a balk and the ball was dead.
It didn't matter as Ruiz eventually scored anyway. Herrera was walked on the next pitch and the following batter was Franco, who deposited a curveball in the left field seats for a 5-2 advantage.