The great debate has been raging for days: Do the Cubs dare promote Ryne Sandberg from Iowa to Cubs manager without any big-league managing or coaching experience?
Two answers came amid the tropical conditions at Wrigley Field on Friday. No, Ryno does not absolutely need to work on a big-league staff before he makes out his first lineup.
So say the man he'll replace, Lou Piniella, and his ol' Tampa buddy Tony La Russa.
Both Hall of Famers-to-be were promoted to their first jobs without a long big-league managing or coaching pedigree. Piniella, groomed by Billy Martin at George Steinbrenner's direction to be a future manager, was formally the Yankees hitting coach for one season and informally doubled in that job in his last year as a player before he was handed over the Bombers' reins in 1986. La Russa was the White Sox's Triple-A manager at Iowa (before it became the Cubs' affiliate) in 1979, only his second year of minor-league managing, when Bill Veeck tapped him to replace player-manager Don Kessinger 2/3 of the way through a lost Sox season.
“I don’t see where you need (a lot of experience),” Piniella said. “Either you can manage or you can’t. Either you can do the job or you can’t.
“It’s like a player. You have some players who have six or seven, eight years in the minor leagues, and finally get an opportunity. And you get the kids who are rushed up and have long careers."
Front-office sponsorship is key for a manager no matter what his background, according to La Russa.
“I think there are different ways to get to the big leagues,” he said. “You just have to have someone believe in you. You can be a coach in the big leagues. You can come up through the system. You can be a player and go right into managing. It just depends on who believes in you."
The last Cubs managers to get their jobs after promotions from Triple-A were mid-season appointees who didn't get a second year: Jim Essian in 1991 and Bruce Kimm in 2002.
If GM Jim Hendry did not think Sandberg was a future managerial possibility, he would not have hired him in the first place, prescribed the classic apprentice program and promoted him twice to the Triple-A job. Both Hendry and Sandberg were not doing the four-year plan for the exercise.
Now, here's the rub. Whether it's Sandberg or anyone else, Piniella's successor has to create his own winning atmosphere. None exists in Wrigley Field. Joe Girardi, another ex-Cub eminently qualified for the job, once said the Yankees' winning tradition oozed from every nook and cranny at old Yankee Stadium -- and is transferred to the new ballpark.
The double bad news is a similar atmosphere exists in St. Louis, restored to its former glory by Squire La Russa in the last 15 years.
“I just know here there’s a great tradition,” he said. “Our veterans are around all the time and they encourage us to keep it up. I think what enables us to keep it up is our ownership is committed, our front office has been outstanding and we have core guys who try to keep it simple.
“Don’t get it too complicated.”
Unfortunately, the Cubs job is complicated because the new manager has to create the positive aura as he goes along. The half-finished tasks by Piniella and Dusty Baker only let doubts -- and talk of curses -- creep back in.
When La Russa said Friday the Cubs job is not more difficult than his own, he is misinformed. That's why only the most narrowly-focused and Cubs-experienced, like Sandberg and Girardi, are the best qualified to take the baton from Piniella and gravitate through the minefields.