Results tagged ‘ Ryne Sandberg ’
Photo by Stephen Green
Thirty-one years ago today, Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg had arguably the most memorable game of his career. “The Sandberg Game” not only put the second baseman on the baseball map, it gave the 1984 Cubs the spark they needed to reach the postseason.
Impressive single-game performances by unproven players should generally be taken with a grain of salt. Over a long season, even the most below-average hitter or spottiest of spot starters occasionally has his day. Mario Mendoza, whose name is synonymous with offensive mediocrity, had one four-hit game in his major league career.
Sometimes, though, there is a perfect storm of circumstances that make a single-game performance stand out above the 162-game grind—a performance that launches a Hall of Fame career and helps define a player’s legacy.
On June 23, 1984, Ryne Sandberg had such a performance. His 5-for-6, seven-RBI outburst certainly looks impressive on paper, but his day was about much more than the stat sheet.
Start with the fact that he took the game’s elite closer deep twice, tying the game in both the ninth and 10th innings. Throw in the setting (a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field) and the matchup (an afternoon showdown against the NL East rival Cardinals). Consider the game’s viewership as NBC’s nationally televised Game of the Week. Finally, pile on the fame it brought Sandberg, the playoff boost it gave a struggling organization, and the sustained steady bump in attendance at Wrigley Field, and the Sandberg Game was a seminal moment in both his career and in the enduring popularity of the Chicago Cubs.
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“While the performance was great, the reason it resonates was that the context was so different,” said broadcaster Bob Costas, who was in his third year on NBC’s baseball broadcast team when he called the Sandberg Game in 1984.
The broadcast landscape was dramatically different in the mid-1980s. Sports on TV were not the 24-hour, 365-day-a-year industry they are today, and cable had not yet taken hold, so most viewers had limited options when it came to what they watched. The National Game of the Week on NBC was a big deal to both baseball and its fans. Every Saturday, the network arranged a premier game to be broadcast in an afternoon time slot, which meant it was often the only matchup going, as most clubs played their weekend games at night.
“The Game of the Week really was the Game of the Week then,” said Costas, who admitted the Sandberg Game was his favorite regular season broadcast of his illustrious career. “No matter how well a game is telecast today, there’s no one game outside of the postseason that rivets everyone’s attention.”
This combination of factors lent Wrigley Field a Monday Night Football-type atmosphere, with a huge audience tuning in and ratings reaching as high as 10, a number today’s postseason games struggle to match. Even with the WGN Superstation broadcasting Cubs games to viewers across the country, there was still reason to get excited about the weekly NBC tilt.
“There’s only one National Game of the Week on Saturday,” said former Cubs catcher Jody Davis, who started behind the plate that day. “Of course, you didn’t get to play in many every year, so you’re lucky to get into one.”
Sandberg shared similar sentiments and said he relished the idea of the national spotlight shining on him and his teammates for an afternoon.
“Every game on television was a big deal to me,” Sandberg said. “I knew that everybody back home was watching. That really got me fired up to play every game. It brought the most out of my abilities.”
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This particular Saturday was one of those picturesque afternoons that happen only a few times a summer. With temperatures in the low 80s and a slight breeze off the lake, Wrigley Field was made-for-TV perfection.
A series of roster moves—including the addition of right-hander Rick Sutcliffe just 10 days prior—was doing wonders for a team that hadn’t exactly lit up the decade. On the morning of June 23, 1984, the Cubs sat 1.5 games out of first place and were in striking distance of their first postseason berth in 39 years, further raising expectations for the 38,000 fans in attendance and the millions of people tuning in across the nation. It didn’t hurt that the rival Cardinals, the 1982 world champs, were in town.
Steve Trout toed the rubber for the Cubs, but it wasn’t one of his better outings. The right-hander lasted just 1.1 innings and was on the hook for seven earned runs, spotting St. Louis an early six-run lead.
“You mean to tell me that because of me, [Sandberg] became [a key] in one of the most famous games ever,” Trout said with a laugh, reflecting on his start that afternoon.
Momentum temporarily shifted when the Cubs got two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but they promptly gave them both back in the top of the sixth. Trailing 9-3 entering the bottom of the inning, the North Siders injected some much-needed excitement into the stadium when they plated five behind a run-scoring single from Richie Hebner, a two-run double from Bobby Dernier and a two-run single from Sandberg.
Leading 9-8 with two outs in the seventh, St. Louis called out the big guns, enlisting lockdown closer Bruce Sutter to carry them the rest of the way. The eventual Hall of Famer, who would amass 300 saves in his stellar career, was the elite back-end arm of his generation, earning a Cy Young Award for his efforts in 1979 as a member of the Cubs. Sutter relied heavily on a split-finger fastball, a devastating pitch that was still new to players at the time.
“It was just a pitch that nobody had seen before,” Davis said of the splitter. “He brought [it] out, and nobody knew what it did. And he was the best at it. It was just really tough facing him, and he was a true competitor.”
Sutter fanned Gary Matthews to wrap up the seventh and set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the eighth, putting an apparent damper on any comeback hopes. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion as Sandberg stepped into the box to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the first and third basemen guarding the lines and the infield shifted slightly to the left side.
Sandberg was having a great season in 1984 and was already 3-for-4 on the day with four RBI. After two-plus major league years, he was seen as a good player with a solid glove at second, having claimed his first Gold Glove Award in 1983, but few had him pegged as an eventual Hall of Famer.
“Though he had already emerged as a very good player, he was still early in his career,” Costas said. “That one just propelled him onto the national stage.”
The first pitch came in low and away for ball one. Sandberg took the second pitch on the outside corner for a strike. But the third pitch was on the inner third of the plate, and Sandberg didn’t miss it, sending the ball screaming into the last row of the left-center-field bleachers.
Tie game. Extra innings.
“I said, ‘You know what this is, Tony? It’s a telephone game,’” Costas said, referring to his broadcast partner, Tony Kubek. “It’s the kind of game where as a baseball fan, you pick up the phone and call your baseball buddy, and you go, ‘Are you watching this? Put on NBC.’”
Cards outfielder Willie McGee was having quite a day himself, with a homer, triple and single to his credit. He’d already compiled five RBI and two runs heading into extra innings. The eventual 1985 NL MVP would complete the cycle with a run-scoring double in the top of the 10th and score two batters later, giving the Cards a two-run lead and shifting momentum back into the visitors’ dugout.
After two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th, Dernier took all six pitches he saw to record a full-count walk. As Costas and Kubek thanked the sponsors and crew for their day’s work, up stepped Ryno.
On the third pitch of the sequence, Costas bellowed: “He hits it to deep left-center. Look out! Do you believe it? It’s gone!”
With Sandberg’s bomb, Wrigley Field was up for grabs. The broadcast duo went silent for nearly a full minute to capture the jubilation of the ecstatic crowd.
“I’m sure there was a lengthy period where I called it as ‘gone,’ and we went quiet because the crowd and the pictures said everything,” Costas said. “We had just seen something that almost defied words. And I think the way the second home run was called, it was not just excitement, but amazement.”
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Just like that, Sandberg became a household name. Few remember that Dave Owen drove in the winning run an inning later on a bases-loaded single to complete the comeback and give the Cubs a 12-11 win.
“I went inside [the clubhouse], and I could barely get to my locker because there were so many people to talk to,” Sandberg said in the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace. “That was the start of my first experience with the media. It was pretty cool.”
With his talent on full display for the nation to see, Sandberg soon became a marquee attraction in Major League Baseball. The first example of his enhanced reputation came with the 1984 All-Star voting. In a matter of days, Ryno surpassed Steve Sax, who had been the leading vote-getter at the keystone position.
“That game really told me that I could do that,” Sandberg said. “It was really a different mind-set that game gave me, and it’s something I wanted to live up to—not only the rest of that year … but it also brought new standards for me each and every year, as far as winning a Gold Glove, a silver bat and an MVP.”
When the ’84 campaign came to a close, Sandberg was a nearly unanimous choice for National League MVP, capturing 22 of 24 first-place votes. According to FanGraphs, he compiled a Wins Above Replacement rating of 8.0, hitting .314/.367/.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 19 homers and a league-best 114 runs, all while playing a key middle-infield position at an elite level.
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The dramatic win didn’t benefit just the Cubs’ now-star second baseman. The team was showing signs of ending a 39-year postseason drought and used the comeback as a rallying cry for the season.
“That was kind of our exclamation point,” Davis said. “It was still early enough in the season. We were off to a good start, [and we were] in the pennant race, which fans weren’t too used to [us] being. The excitement was starting to build, and that day made all of the fans start to believe that we did have a chance.”
The team went 59-34 the rest of the way, including an 18-10 record in July and a 20-10 mark in August. They finished 31-24 in one-run ballgames and won 11 games in walk-off fashion en route to an NL-best 96 wins. The North Siders were fun to watch, and, for the first time in a long while, Wrigley Field became the hottest ticket in town, as more and more fans flocked to the North Side to see the miracle Cubs and their soon-to-be MVP second baseman.
“In ’84, the fans came alive, and you saw the first fans on the rooftops,” Sandberg said. “Just to see that whole transformation and see it be a tough ticket here for the rest of my career [was exciting].”
According to Baseball-Reference, the Cubs hit the 2 million mark in attendance for the first time ever that season. Individual game sales were up nearly 8,000 from the previous year and nearly 11,000 from 1982. At least 2 million people have attended games at Wrigley Field in all but three seasons since.
In that single game, a future Hall of Famer emerged from the shadows into full-fledged stardom, a dormant franchise was catapulted to its first postseason berth in nearly four decades, and the fan base was energized for decades to come.
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.
Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.
In the eighth installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, we look at second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who was not only the best Cubs player of the 1980s, but also one of the best in the game.
1980s – Ryne Sandberg, 33.7 WAR
In January 1982, the Phillies were interested in acquiring the services of Cubs shortstop Ivan De Jesus. In exchange, Philly shipped the aging Larry Bowa to the North Side, along with a lightly regarded infield prospect named Ryne Sandberg. Little did the Philadelphia organization know it had just given up the most productive second baseman of the 1980s.
Sandberg went on to a remarkable 16-year career in Chicago and quickly became the face of the franchise. From his start with the Cubs in 1982 through the end of the decade, he won an MVP Award (1984), six Silver Slugger Awards and seven Gold Gloves. He also went to six All-Star Games.
While 1984’s “Sandberg Game”—a nationally televised affair in which he hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning off Bruce Sutter and then another off the Hall of Famer in the 10th—was likely his most memorable performance, he also managed to lead his club to two postseason berths. In 10 playoff games, Ryno hit .385/.457/.641 with five doubles and six RBI.
He continued to produce at a high level into the early 1990s and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Despite typical April temperatures in Chicago and a 7-2 loss to the visiting Phillies, the Cubs still managed the kick off the Party of the Century in style. Friday’s home opener began a yearlong celebration of Wrigley Field, which turns 100 years old on April 23. The gametime temperature hovered in the high 30s—and a strong wind made it feel colder than that—but that didn’t stop 38,283 fans from packing the Friendly Confines. Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams were on hand to throw out the first pitch, and Ernie, Fergie and Billy sang the stretch (Sandberg was otherwise occupied with his job as Phillies manager).
Vine Line talked to Cubs players and personnel about Opening Day at Wrigley Field and celebrating the venerable stadium the Cubs have called home for 98 years. There’s no better place to be than Wrigley Field—in April or September.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The last time Ryne Sandberg was in the Wrigley Field dugout as a visitor was in 1981 when he was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies. On Friday afternoon, he’ll return as the Phillies’ manager, when the Cubs open a three-game set with Philadelphia on Friday. Sandberg spent 15 years in Cubbie blue during his Hall of Fame career. He went to 10 All-Star games, won nine Gold Gloves and was the 1984 NL MVP.
On this date in 2005, after receiving 76.2 percent of votes, Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg was voted into the Hall of Fame. It was Ryno’s third year of eligibility. Joining him in the 2005 class was former Red Sox and Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs, who got in on his first attempt.
Sandberg, the 1984 NL MVP, was a 10-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glove winner and a seven-time recipient of the Silver Slugger award. Of his 282 career home runs, 277 came while playing second, a then-record at the position.
The Cubs acquired the Hall of Famer in a deal now seen as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. With an already crowded infield in Philadelphia, the Phillies traded middle infielder Larry Bowa and Sandberg—a player many in the Phillies organization viewed as a utility man at best—for Ivan DeJesus.
In Ryno’s MVP season of 1984, he hit .314/.367/.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG), had 200 hits, stole 32 bases, slugged 19 home runs and had 36 doubles. He also had a league best 114 runs scored and 19 triples. That season also included the famous “Sandberg Game.” On June 23, with the Cubs hosting the rival Cardinals in a nationally televised game, Sandberg had what many view as his breakout game.
With the Cubs trailing 9-8 in the ninth inning and facing shutdown closer Bruce Sutter, Sandberg ripped a solo home run to left to force extra innings. In the top of the 10th, St. Louis managed to score a pair. But with a man on in the bottom of the inning, Sandberg hit another home run to tie the game. The Cubs would go on to win in the 11th inning.
Defensively, he owned a career .989 fielding percentage, the highest of any second baseman in history. Sandberg also set a positional record for a single season (1989) when he went 90 straight games without committing an error. He extended that streak to set another record with 123 errorless games over two seasons (1989-90).
In Sandberg’s 16-year career, he had a .285 average, 1,061 RBI, 2,386 hits and a 64.9 wins above replacement total.
After the 1997 season, Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg stepped away from the game for the second and final time. That season, the 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glover and 1984 MVP hit .264 with 12 home runs and 64 RBI in 480 plate appearances.
The following is an excerpt from the November issue of Vine Line, on sale now at Chicago-area retailers.
Good as Gold
When Darwin Barney came to Spring Training in 2011, he was expected to be a utility player. By the end of 2012, he was a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a cornerstone of the Cubs’ future.
April 18, 2012, was a rough day for the Cubs.
It was the second game of a three-game road trip to the Marlins’ ultra-modern, “only-in-Miami” new ballpark. Starter Matt Garza struggled through five innings, while his mound opponent and former Chicago compatriot Mark Buehrle cruised through eight, surrendering one run. The Cubs managed just six hits in a 9-1 loss … and starting second baseman Darwin Barney didn’t make an error.
It was an altogether forgettable evening of baseball, except for one thing. This game touched off one of the best defensive runs in baseball history.
It would be more than five months—141 games—before Barney made another miscue in the field. During that nearly season-long stretch, the diminutive second baseman made all the plays (including a surprising number of spectacular ones), piled up records, and bypassed former coach and Cubs legend—and perhaps the best second baseman of all time—Ryne Sandberg.
“I’ve been around a long time, and he’s been as good as I’ve ever seen,” said manager Dale Sveum. “[Barney] has put together arguably one of the best defensive second base years in the history of the game. I mean, he’s passed a lot of people. And when you’re basically passing one of the best—if not the best (Ryne Sandberg)—it’s one heck of an accomplishment you can hang your hat on for the rest of your life.”
There are more obvious kinds of excellence. Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown practically begs for plaudits and superlatives—it necessitates hits, home runs, fireworks and its own SportsCenter playlist. Barney’s is a low-key, under-the-radar, grind-it-out kind of excellence.
An errorless game is nothing to get excited about. Major league ballplayers aren’t supposed to make errors. But given the physical and mental grind of 162 games, they all know how difficult it is to put together an extended errorless streak.
“If I had a 20-game streak, I was pleased with myself,” said former Cubs third base and infield coach Pat Listach, who played six seasons in the majors and was integral to Barney’s defensive improvement over the last two years. “This guy has got over 100. Just knowing how hard it is to do every day, day in and day out, made it more impressive every day.”
To a man, every player and coach immediately mentions Barney’s tireless work ethic and consuming drive to get better. He consistently receives the highest compliment a player can give to any other major leaguer: “He’s a baseball player.” And over the course of the 2012 season, Barney fashioned himself into perhaps the preeminent defensive second sacker in the game.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” Listach said. “He knows this is a game you can only play for a certain number of years, and he wants to be the best at it while he’s got that window open. He’s like the old-school baseball players. When us coaches leave after we’re done dissecting the game, he’s still there. He’s in the weight room, or he’s in the video room. He’s trying to make himself better every day.”
Given the way Barney handles the keystone, it would be easy to believe he’s spent his entire life mastering the position. But in reality, 2012 was only Barney’s second year at second base. He’d grown up and played his entire career as a shortstop, including at Oregon State University, where he said he really started to focus on his defensive play.
“We had a coach, Marty Lees, who’s now at Oklahoma State,” Barney said. “Every ground ball I took my freshman year, I felt like he had something to say. And I was so frustrated because [it was] every single ground ball. And we took a lot of ground balls.”
When Barney made his debut as the Cubs’ starting second baseman on Opening Day 2011, it was just the 24th game he had played the position as a professional. Although he thought the transition would be easy, he said he was often uncomfortable in the field, especially turning the double play. He ultimately finished the 2011 season with 12 errors and a .981 fielding percentage—a decent defensive season for a guy adjusting to a new position—but Barney was far from satisfied.
“I just took a lot of pride in the work that I did,” Barney said. “I was always conscious about my habits and my practice efforts and getting to work every single day. A lot of times when you’re tired, you take your defense off and take less ground balls. For me, I take less swings. I make sure I get my work in on defense and stay solid out there.”
By almost any measure—advanced metrics, errors, fielding percentage or just the eye test—Barney’s 2012 was one of the best defensive seasons for a second baseman in the history of the game. In 156 games, Barney made only three errors—one of which came at shortstop—and amassed a .997 fielding percentage at second base. Baseball-Reference had Barney tied with Brendan Ryan of the Mariners for the best defensive wins above replacement (3.6) mark in the major leagues in 2012.
“This is my 11th full year doing big league games, and this is the best defensive year by an individual player I’ve witnessed,” said Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. “I think we’ve come a long way with defensive statistics and how to look at defense. The bottom line is: Forget about the errors and fielding percentage. It’s about balls hit in your area and turning them into outs. It’s been borne out in the statistics that every ball hit in his area turns into an out.”
But Barney is not spending the offseason resting on his defensive laurels. Despite his superlative campaign, he still wants to get better around the bag turning double plays. He plans to work on his speed and flexibility to improve his range. And he wants to continue to refine his routine so he’s ready to play every day. And for people who know Barney, none of this comes as a surprise.
“A lot of times, players have a tendency to work on the things they do well,” said Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and outfield coach. “Darwin works on everything. He works on his backhand, he works on his feeds, ground balls hit up the middle, ground balls hit to his left. He works on them all because he wants to be that guy—he wants to be the Gold Glove second baseman. I think once he gets it, he’s going to get it forever.”
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Every once in a Cubbie blue moon, we are witness to seeing a dream come true at Wrigley Field. It might happen to a neighbor or friend of the Cubs, or even a business partner. Artist Steve Musgrave has been all three over the years.
You might have seen his work as you come through the Red Line “el” stop at Addison, just east of Wrigley Field. His murals include Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ryne Sandberg tagging a sliding Ozzie Smith.
Last Monday, Steve got to fulfill a lifelong dream. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the 7:05 contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wearing a handmade Cubs beret, in front of his lovely wife Jane and a handful of friends and family–not to mention the more than 32,000 people in the stands–Steve conjured up visions of Fergie Jenkins (or Matt Clement, his favorite Cub in 2003) and threw a looping strike to rookie right-hander and Park Ridge, Ill., native Brian Schlitter.
Not only did he fulfill a lifelong dream, but he also was representing the Chicago Public Library’s “Reading is Artrageous” program, a summer reading initiative centered around art for city kids up to age 14.
The program is a partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago. Steve has visited several libraries as a guest speaker and participant. To learn more about the program, click here.
A caring and genuine soul, Steve has done much work for Cubs publications in the past and has always been great to work with and an even better friend. In fact, while the longtime Lakeview resident has been a good neighbor of the Cubs, he was an even nicer neighbor to me, as he selflessly volunteered to walk our dog Bella every day along with his dog Molly.
His work has adorned the covers of our official programs, scorecards, and he even served as Vine Line‘s caricature illustrator for a time. More importantly, he has done a lot of work for not-for-profits around the area.
So I felt compelled to bring him something that could fittingly commemorate his big Wrigley Field debut: An ice bag.
OK, so he might have not worked up a sweat out on the mound, but the guy has worked hard for his community. That’s good enough.
MESA, Ariz.–It was still dark this morning when staff photographer Steve Green and I made our way to Fitch Park. Though it was 5:30 a.m., to me it was more like 7:30 in Chicago. I felt pretty good. After a short stop at Starbucks, we arrived at the Cubs’ minor-league facility.
Things were still soggy after it rained virtually all day on Sunday. I never have seen so much rain in Arizona, but by the afternoon, most of it had dried up.
Photo Day is when teams take care of photos for MLB security IDs, standard headshots that other teams use on their jumbotrons.
Also on hand to shoot the players were Topps trading cards, Getty photo services and the Associated Press.
Three stations crammed into a room that usually serves as the coaches’ meeting room. We move all of the tables and chairs to make room.
Xavier Nady, a newcomer to the Cubs, asked “Are these the headshots used on the jumbotron?”
He was worried about how his face looked on a big screen after inspecting one headshot on the photographer’s digital camera.
But when he was reminded that Wrigley Field does not have a jumbotron, he retorted, “Hey, that’s right. Well, in that case, I guess that’s OK.”
In his first big-league camp, rookie Starlin Castro was quiet, but did everything Steve asked.
We were doing a special shoot for our April issue of Vine Line, which will feature our 2010 season preview. He’s a good-looking athlete and certainly has merited all the hype he’s attracted.
Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg takes over our Triple-A affiliate in Iowa. Always accommodating, “Ryno” is a veteran of these photo days, and knew exactly what to do.
No Geovany Soto, he was sent home with a 102-degree fever. Ouch.
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