Schmidt, Giles and Sawyer also made unexpected departures
By Paul Hagen
PHILADELPHIA -- The news that Ryne Sandberg had abruptly stepped down as manager of the Phillies on Friday hit the organization with the same sort of force as the fierce storm that lashed the region three days earlier. It knocked down speculation, uprooted assumptions and left a trail of disarray in its wake.
It was not, however, the first time the franchise has been stunned by an unexpected departure. In fact, surprises of a similar magnitude occurred on at least three previous occasions.
May 29, 1989:Mike Schmidt announces his retirement on Memorial Day weekend
A day earlier, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the future Hall of Fame third baseman had gone hitless in three at bats. He was 39 years old and batting .203 for a team that was destined to finish last. He'd been thinking about quitting for almost a week, since hurting his back while jogging on the warning track.
But nobody saw it coming.
"Mentally, I had sort of been thinking about it," Schmidt recalled years later. "'Might this be the end? What other sign do I need?' I was looking for a jumping-off point."
The omen came right on cue. In the bottom of the fourth, with two outs and two on, the 10-time Gold Glove Award winner let a routine grounder go between his legs. Will Clark followed with a grand slam. After the game, Schmidt called his wife and his agent. He told manager Nick Leyva what he planned to do. On the charter flight to San Diego he informed the traveling party. The official announcement came the following day at Jack Murphy Stadium.
"I think the important thing at the time of my decision is that the team -- and you always want to put the team first -- was not a contender," Schmidt said in 2009. "Everybody understood it was a rebuilding process. We weren't going to win the division. Whether I was there or not, we were pretty much going to finish in the same place. Maybe it would be easier to rebuild without having to think about me. I was not going to be a big part of their future. Once I removed myself, the rebuilding process started working pretty quickly."
June 20, 1997:Bill Giles resigns as Phillies president
It was Giles who put together the group that purchased the team from the Carpenter family in 1981. He had the final call on all decisions. The way the partnership agreement was structured, it was almost impossible to dismiss him. And he clearly relished his role.
So the news that he had resigned to accept the largely ceremonial position of team chairman sent shock waves throughout Veterans Stadium. "It hit me like a ton of bricks," center fielder Lenny Dykstra said at the time.
Giles would later say that he made his decision after taking a long, solitary walk near his cabin in the Poconos. It seemed apparent that the struggles the Phillies were having on the way to a second straight last-place finish, and the sometimes-personal criticism that came along with it had begun to wear on him.
It didn't help either that at an Owners' Meeting in Philadelphia, several of his peers reportedly expressed concerns over the state of his team. All of that became clear in retrospect, but it was a bombshell when it happened.
April 14, 1960:Manager Eddie Sawyer quits after an Opening Day loss
Sawyer had managed the pennant-winning Whiz Kids in 1950, was dismissed in '52 and then was rehired as a midseason replacement in '58. But the Phillies finished last that season, and again the following year.
Sawyer ran the Phillies during Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla. On Opening Day at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, his team jumped out to a 4-0 lead. But the Reds scored five times in the bottom of the second and romped to a 9-4 win. Future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was charged with eight earned runs over 4 1/3 innings.
Sawyer had seen enough. Before the next game two days later against the Milwaukee Braves at Connie Mack Stadium, he resigned. When asked why, he memorably explained: "Because I'm 49 years old, and I'd like to live to be 50."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.