This past year marked the ten-year anniversary of longtime second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, Ryne Sandberg, being elected into the Hall of Fame. Receiving 76.1% of votes, Sandberg punched his ticket to Cooperstown on his third ballot. Personally, the Hall of Famer means a lot to me. 20 years ago, my parents gave me the name Ryne Cooper, after Sandberg and the home of the Hall of Fame, Cooperstown.
I can directly thank both my parents and Sandberg for giving me the love for baseball that I have today, as I shared a connection with the game from the day I was born. I never had the chance to see Ryne play, as I was just two years-old when he retired, but he means just as much to me as the countless number of players I’ve seen play and have adored throughout the years. Sandberg respected the game and played it the way it should be, something that may be lacking in today’s game.
Ryne put his name into households across America with a breakout season in 1984. He hit .314 with 19 homers and 84 RBI that season, en route to a National League MVP award. He led the Chicago Cubs to their first Division Title in more than 40 years, and helped put the Cubs back in the eye of baseball fans at a national level. His MVP season was highlighted by a match up against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 23rd, dubbed “The Sandberg Game”.
Ryne stepped up to the plate in the 9th inning, of the nationally broadcasted game, with the Cubs down a run. Sandberg would deliverm with a game tying home run off of dominant Cardinals closer, Bruce Sutter. After the Cardinals scored two more to regain the lead in the tenth, Ryne would come up again in the bottom half, and hit another game tying blast. The Cubs would go on to win the important game, and emerge as more than just a sleeper in the National League.
In 16 years in the Major Leagues, for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Ryne was perhaps the greatest second baseman of his time, and was a perennial All-Star. Sandberg was known for his incredible defense at second base, despite being new to the position as a young player. He won nine consecutive Gold Gloves, from 1983 to 1991, and his .989 career fielding percentage is the highest among second basemen in Major League history.
While a historic defensive second baseman, Ryne was in no way an easy out at the plate. He won seven Silver Slugger Awards in his career, and led the league in home runs in 1990 with 40, an unthinkable amount for a second baseman. Ryne was just the third second baseman ever to hit 40 home runs in a season, joining Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson. He would be invited to his 7th consecutive All-Star Game in 1990, which was hosted at Wrigley Field. He put on a show for the hometown crowd, winning the Home Run Derby, the first player to do so in front of his home crowd and only player until Todd Frazier did it this year in Cincinnati.
After becoming baseball’s highest paid player in 1992, Sandberg decided to step away from the game in 1994, stating that he had lost the desire to play the game everyday. He would sit out the rest of the strike-shortened 1994 season, and the entire 1995 season, before returning to the game for what would be his final two seasons.
Ryne Sandberg’s legacy consists of not only his superb defense, but his uncharacteristic power as a second baseman. He ranks fourth in career home runs among second baseman, collecting 282 in his career. At the time of his retirement, he had the most Gold Gloves as a second baseman in baseball history, with nine, which has since been surpassed by Roberto Alomar.
He continued his baseball legacy in 2007, being named manager of the Cubs’ Class-A affiliate, and was eventually promoted to third base coach for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012. He took over as interim manager in 2013 for the Phillies, and kept the job for the rest of the season and all of 2014. He went 119-159 as a manger, resigning from the position in June of 2015. As a player, Ryne Sandberg played the game with respect, and will go down as one of the greatest second baseman of all time.