Remembering Ryno

Phil Garner, Davey Lopes, Steve Sax, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Herr, Bill Doran, Bobby Grich, Chico Lind, Manny Trillo, Willie Randolph, Damaso Garcia, Johnny Ray, Lou Whitaker, Frank White, Juan Samuel, Julio Franco, Harold Reynolds, Jose Oquendo Running through these names is all that needs to be done to understand why Ryne Sandberg is a Hall of Famer, and should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. For a decade, Sandberg was unarguably the elite second baseman of the Major Leagues, both offensively and defensively. From 1981 to 1997, Sandberg won nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers. Only Roberto Alomar has won more Gold Gloves at Second Base, with ten (Bill Mazeroski and Frank White each have eight.) and Sandbergís .989 career fielding percentage is tied with Tommy Herr for first all-time among Second Basemen. No other second baseman has won more than four Silver Sluggers (Alomar, Biggio, Franco and Whitaker. Kent could score his fourth, this year.) Granted, the award came into existence in 1980. Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Jackie Robinson and Joe Morgan would have racked up a bunch, but the point here is to establish Sandbergís dominance relative to his peers, not to make a larger historical point. Baseball people commonly talk about how Cal Ripken revolutionized the Shortstop position, turning it from a place reserved for defensive specialists who were not expected to hit above .230 or belt more than a couple home runs a year, into a power position. But less often do you hear it pointed out that Sandberg did the same thing for second basemen. Of the eighteen peers listed above, only Franco has a better lifetime average (.300 going into this year) and no one has a better slugging percentage. Whitaker, Grich, Samuel and Franco are the only players within fifty points of him. So basically, Sandberg had the glove, speed, and fundamentals of a ìclassicî all-time great Second Baseman, and hit in a way that only Morgan and Hornsby had ever hit there, before. But enough of the statistical and historical comparisons, letís talk about the man, himself. Sandberg was never my favorite player as a child. I always admired Sandberg, I even had a huge poster of him in my room for years, but he also was the only Cub player available in poster-form. He never quite made it to that boyhood pantheon of Heroes and Favorites. Instead, my Favorite Player was always the sluggerñ Cey, Durham ñ or the underdog ñ Cey (again), Dwight Smith, Doug Dascenzo, Derrek May. If I saw The Sandberg Game, I canít remember it. So perhaps thatís part of the explanation for his non-favorite status. (Instead, I read about the game in Bob Loganís book on the 1984 Cubs, ìCubs Win,î which I read cover to cover every night in the winter of 1984-1985. He quotes Whitey Herzog as saying, before Sandberg stepped up for his last at bat, ìUh-oh, Here comes Baby Ruthî and later Herzog called him the best player he had ever seen.) Part of it, likely, comes from the fact that he was one of the players my Mom always dreamed about knocking on the door one day and whisking her away, and I wanted nothing to do with this line of thinking. But most likely, I guess I was just too young to appreciate how hard Sandberg worked or how effortless he made everything seem. I could not yet appreciate his skill as a fielder or a runner, his consistency from day to day and year to year. Jim Frey said of Sandberg, "He has the most consistent approach to the game I've ever seen. He's similar to (Al) Kaline. You could watch Kaline play for five years and look back and say 'I've never seen him mess up a play or make a mistake.' I know we use the word consistent a lot, but in Sandberg's case it applies." Instead of appreciating all that, the thing that I appreciated Sandberg for, growing up, was that in a very literal sense, he gave me ìstreet cred.î Every day when me and my friends would gather to play baseball in the street, we would argue about whose team was best. Other than in 1984 and 1989, I never won any of those arguments. But Sandberg kept me from ever losing them, too. Whenever one kid would get on me for cheering for a bunch of losers, another kid would pipe in, before I ever had to say a word, with something like ìoh yeah? Well theyíve got Sandberg and heís AWESOME!î I also remember that one of my best friends who was part of the street-ball gang, Brandon, had a home-run stroke that sort of looked like Sandbergís, and we all thought that was really cool. So basically, with the exception of two glorious years, Sandberg (and for a while, Grace and Dawson) was the only thing that gave my team an aura of success or classiness or coolness. So maybe now is a good time to finally thank you, Ryne, for keeping me from being teased even more than I already was as a kid. Much like myself, the media and the Hall of Fame voters have tended to overlook Sandberg. The man was famous for his shyness and humility, rarely seeking to draw attention to himself. In Carrie Muskatís oral history of the Cubs, Banks to Sandberg to Grace, Rick Sutcliffe tells this story:
Ryno and I lived within 100 feet of each other. I remember one thing about Ryno. He was so shy. when I had my shoulder surgery, the team was on the road, and they got back and all of a sudden thereís a knock on the door. Robin [Rickís wife] says, ìRick, itís Ryno.î I said, ìRyno, whatís up?î He says, ìNothing.î I said, ìDo you want to come in?î And he says, ìSure.î I said, ìYou want a cup of coffee?î He says, ìSure.î We talked about the team, and he drank his coffee and he left. I said to Robin, Iím not positive what that was all about. I think he just wanted to see how I was doing. He just couldnít say it.î Thereíd be days when Iíd say Iím not talking first, and there would be times when weíd go to the park and there was nothing said. He was just quiet.î
After nearly two decades of letting his play speak for him, Sandberg gets to address Cooperstown. Iíll be listening to my New Favorite Cub.

Comments

Great article! Everybody should enjoy this because Ryno will probably be the last Cub who didn't cheat to get into the hall for awhile. I hope I am wrong because I would like to see Santo get in but I doubt he will. Hawk and Gracey don't have the numbers. Smith, Sutter, and Gossage will have to wait for a vet committee that understands the value of a closer to get in. And for Sosa He does not belong in the hall.

I would love to hear reader-thoughts about Ryno.

Especially Excellent or just interesting contributions may get bumped to the front page.

When I was a young kid, Bill Buckner and Ernie Banks were my favorite players. Buckner was somebody I was able to watch every day while Banks was more of a legend my older brother and dad told me about. Both of them were nice enough to give a nosy eight-year-old kid their autographs on the same old beat up baseball glove at a charity basketball game in South Bend, Ind. in the mid-70's. Mr. Cub was even nice enough to let me sit in on an interview he was doing with a reporter from the local paper. Man, that was cool.

When I was a bit older and had learned to appreciate The Way The Game Is Supposed To Be Played, Ryne Sandberg became and remains my favorite player of all time. I tried to emulate his batting stance, but found that Keith Moreland's style was a better fit. Having once seen Ryno signal two outs with his index and middle finger, like a peace sign instead of the "Hook 'em Horns" index and pinkie finger that a lot of ball players used, I've signalled two outs with a "V" ever since.

1984 was and remains my favorite season of all time. I was 15 and lived and died with the Cubs. I still remember watching The Sandberg Game on my mother's birthday and thinking, "this is it! The Cubs are going to win the World Series!" I watched the final outs of game five alone upstairs, afraid to let my family see me cry.

I'm way too old now to worship baseball players, but I still have that poster of Ryno - only now it's in my son's room.

Congratulations, Ryne. And thank you.

Sorry for the Sosa rant neither the time or thread for it. Ryno will always be my favorite Cub. He played hard and gave him self up for the team by hitting 2nd. I always thought he and Grace should have been flip-flopped. He was the best fielding 2nd baseman ever, and the best all-round 2nd baseman of his generation. Congrats Ryno and thanks for all the memories.

Should have been a first-ballot guy, no doubt about it. Tacked to the wall right next to my computer is a Sandberg baseball card -- a '92 Leaf Gold. On the front picture Ryno's jumping up to avoid a sliding baserunner, and you can see that perfectly formed infielder's glove with the batting glove on underneath. I wore it that way too. Tried to make my glove look just like his. I wanted to play second base, but I was 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, so I was a catcher, which turned out pretty good for me when I made All-State my senior year of high school. And once, when we were up 10 or 12 runs in a game, my coach let me play the last inning at second. I swear, even at 18 years old, I pretended I was Ryno.

Miss those line drive homers into the second row of the bleachers. Miss those perfect, soft hands. Congrats, Ryno.

Sandberg was my first true favorite player, and it was he more than anyone else that I enjoyed watching on WGN in the afternoon as a child. It was my appreciation of his skill and class that seemed to separate him from my estimation of other players, as well as the fact that he resembled my father in more than a passing way. Having been born and raised in Arkansas, only visiting Chicago and Wrigley a few years ago (I've still never seen a game there amazingly), I've often been asked by friends and family why in the hell I am a Cubs fan (esp. as Arkansas is Cardinals country and I went to college in St. Louis). The only reason I can give for this is "Sandberg," but it seems to be reason enough for any halfway-knowledgeable baseball fan, even a Cardinal fan, immediately understands what I mean.

After Ryno's return, when it was clear that he had lost a bit in the field(and a lot at the plate) I remember saying that he was hurting his Hall of Fame chances. Personally I think he is clearly qualified. He was a machine at second base, great range, instincts, and hands. By far the best at his position for most of his career.

I have read here that Joe Morgan has something against Sandberg. If you compare their stats it seems what JM doesn't like is that his numbers(excluding walks & steals)(and rings) were so quickly matched.

Anybody else watching "the sandberg game" on comcast now? I don't remember this at all (hey I was 8!), so its kind of neat seeing it for the first time.

Things I've noticed:
Bob Costas is the announcer. I like him as a baseball announcer. Interestingly, I heard him mention on base percentage 3 or 4 times.

Ozzie Smith - so far its in the 3rd inning and I've seen him make 2 or 3 outstanding defensive plays. I think I would have liked watching him in his prime.

Hearing the announcers talk about Larry Bowa, Ron Cey, and Bobby Dernier as the "stars" of the club. Sandberg is mentioned as having a good year. Just a little odd to me - since I really started following/remembering baseball, Sandberg was always the "future hall of famer".

Hearing them mention Terry Francona as leading the league in doubles and Art Howe playing for the Cards. I guess I always new they were players, but it never seemed "real". They quoted that Art Howe is great with the younger players, always teaching.

Ryno is the reason I am a cubs fan to this day. One afternoon when I was about 6 I was flipping through the channels and stopped on a CUBS game. The first Hitter I see come up to the plate is this young second baseman who proceeds to hit a ball onto waveland. And ever since then I have been totally obsessed with the cubs. So thank you RYNO for playing the game right.

I just saw in the Sandburg game that a fan in the Bartman seat interfered with a ball. The Sarge reacted just like alou.

The last Cub to get into the Hall for quite a while? How about, oh, I don't know, Greg Maddux? The only suspense in his election will be which jerk writers don't name him on their ballot.

I thought the G. Matthews play over the wall was ironic as well.

A couple things I noticed.....MAN those guys sure were skinny back in the day...no necks...pretty ordinary looking bodies...and of course little steroids...

Forgot after the third out they would drop the ball at the pitchers mound just like we always did in little league, high school, college etc...

What ever happened to the pretty ball girl who sat to the home plate side of the visitor's dugout??

The 1984 Cubs were one of the most likeable group of guys you could have on a team.....

And Ryno was a very special player...a genuine class act--congratulations Ryno!

"How about, oh, I don't know, Greg Maddux?"

Yes, except that Maddux will go into Cooperstown as a Brave. Does that really count as a Cubs Hall of Famer?

That was my reasoning to Andrew. I wish the Hall would let guys pick for themselves unless they try to sell those rights. Like Clemens he hates the Red Sox and should have the right to choose. You could make a case for Yankees or Astros being the team he should be enshrined with.

Growing up as a 7 year old, watching the '84 cubs led by ryne sandberg tkae down the nl east, well ryno you're a big reason i'm as big a fan of baseball as I am now. Congrats, you deserve it all.

Ryno was to my what Santo was to many in the 60's. I played second base in Little League because of him. It seemed like he made a fabulous play look easy every night. Great hitter, especially in the clutch. When it comes to second basemen, he'd be near the top of my list. Perhaps a dig on Morgan, I'd take Ryno any day of the week over Know It All Joe.

As for HOF caps: I'm all for a blank cap with teams listed in the profile. There's just too much movement nowadays. Clemens is the perfect example, as mentioned earlier. One could argue his years in Toronto were his best. It may be Houston when it is all said & done.

Lastly, I know Maddux will go in as a Brave; but I'm happy to see him reach his milestones where he should--with us. At least all major clips in his career will be in a Cub uniform.

I'm going to date everybody again. I'm too young to remember much about Sandberg in his prime, other than that he was my favorite Cub, probably due to his nickname.

I'm sure I paid special attention to Ryno at games, but I don't remember anything from his pre-retirement days. I wasn't quite 10 when a Cub destined for the Hall suffered a career-altering HBP (an unfortunate theme that would resurface ten years later).

The game I do remember involving Ryno was his last home game, in September 1997. I won't go to Retrosheet, but I'm fairly certain it was against the Philies. Ryno got a proper sendoff, rapping a single and walking off to a well-deserved ovation.

Even Sandberg's last game, though, is overshadowed, in retrospect, by all the other things that game meant. I went to that game expressly to see Ryno leave. I didn't, however, expect to sing with Harry for the final time. I didn't expect it to be the last game of what we can fairly call (especially those of us with short lives and memories) the 1990-1997 Era of Suck.

As with so many other things in this wonderful game of ours, Young "Ron" spent the next year captivated by a Ryno-less team that actually played somewhat well, featuring a Cub who came out of nowhere to take the MVP award and begin to make his case for the Hall. Here our paths diverge: luckily, the Cubs never came close to taking the series with Atlanta, but the fans of Generation Sammy wouldn't have to wait long to learn that lesson, either.

In closing: Tomorrow isn't really a special day for me. For me, Ryne Sandberg is closer to Gabby Hartnett than to Brant Brown: an item of Cubs history I know about, but not one where I can say "I'll never forget when he...". However, I do stand in awe of all of you who got to witness such a special player on a daily basis now that I have a greater comprehension of the highs (and, unfortunately, the lows) that entails.

Growing up in NJ (and boy how I miss NJ now that I reside in the armpit of America known as western PA, but I digress) my father would take me to the Vet in Philly so we could see our beloved Cubbies. I remember leaning over and looking down in the bullpen and talking with Smith and Hernandez, however, the greatest thrill I ever had as a kid was a Ryno moment. After a game in '85, my father and I were walking back to the parking lot when we happened across the Cubs bus. I saw Ryno walking towards the bus and asked him for an autograph. Ryno did not have a pen nor did my father and I figured I lost my chance. Ryno calmly said "let me get one on the bus." Those 3-4 minutes waiting for Ryno to come back seemed like an eternity! But he DID COME BACK and sign my cubs hat! Amazing, he actually got on the bus, grabbed a pen and got off the bus and signed my hat! Picture Sammy doing that today. A memory I, as a 14yr old, will never forget. Congrats Ryno!

BTW - it was sure nice back in the day to get autographs from superstars and not HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM!

can't add anything to what people have said here, but ryno was always one of my favorites.

i live in chicago now but was gone for about 20 years...in my infrequent trips to see the Cubs play, both at wrigley and in places like philly and cincy, i had a streak where ryno homered in five straight games that i went to over the course of about four years. just saying...

Agreed, ChiFan. Although, I think Maddux, even if given the choice, would pick the Braves as his team in Cooperstown. He had such a close relationship with Leo Mazzone and had nearly all of his stellar years there. I think he's let go the old grudge against Cubs management, and probably has a renewed appreciation of Chicago and Cubs fans, but I bet it's Atlanta that is the team of his heart.

"As for HOF caps: I'm all for a blank cap with teams listed in the profile. There's just too much movement nowadays. Clemens is the perfect example, as mentioned earlier. One could argue his years in Toronto were his best. It may be Houston when it is all said & done."

Brian the player that will probably makes this happen is Sheffield if he gets in. If he plays for 3 more years he will get 500 HR and 2b, and 2,500 hits. Unlike most players you just can't pinpoint one team that he should be enshrined with. It is a shame that somebody can't play his career with one team and represent them with class like Ryno did with the Cubs.

Another #23 had a pretty damn successful comeback in Chicago, while Sandberg was obviously not the same player in his return (and it hurt to watch how stiff he looked going after grounders, though he still seemed to make every play). But Ryno's return got me misty-eyed and Jordan's didn't. I can't express what that was like, to think I'd never see my favorite ballplayer take the field again, and then to see him again.

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