Ryne Sandberg may have been the player most responsible for transforming the Chicago Cubs from a farce to force.
Sandberg’s overwhelming 1984 performance led the Cubs to the National League East title, which propelled them to the postseason for the first time since 1945. Chicago qualified for the postseason only once more in Sandberg’s 16-year career, but the team would never again be considered a bunch of loveable losers while he anchored second base. He became synonymous with excellence at his position, and that was anything but laughable.
Here’s a look at 10 memorable moments and events from Sandberg’s career:
1) Clouts against Cards
June 23, 1984
Anybody unaware of Sandberg’s skills before this date knew of his prowess hereafter. Performing against the rival St. Louis Cardinals on NBC’s Game of the Week, which remained a showcase at the time, he forged ties in the ninth and 10th innings by homering off premier closer and future Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Sutter. The Cubs proceeded to win in 11 innings, 12-11, helping elevate Sandberg to stardom.
2) What a year
Sandberg’s breakout season was, in many ways, his best ever. Besides batting a personal-high .314 and reaching the 200-hit mark for the only time in his career, he topped the Majors with 19 tripIes and scored an NL-best 114 runs. Sandberg won the NL Most Valuable Player vote in a landslide, with Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez finishing second.
3) Becoming a Cub
Jan. 27, 1982
Sandberg began his professional career with the Philadelphia Phillies, who drafted him in the 20th round in 1978. He came to the Cubs as part of an exchange of shortstops, as Philadelphia gave up Larry Bowa and Chicago parted with Ivan de Jesus. According to legend, some Phillies officials were reluctant to part with Sandberg, but others regarded him as nothing more than a utility player. Meanwhile, Cubs general manager Dallas Green, who gained an appreciation for Sandberg while working for the Phillies, insisted on acquiring the 22-year-old.
4) Precious power
Sandberg smacked 40 homers during this season, becoming the first NL second baseman to win a home run title since St. Louis’ Rogers Hornsby in 1925. He, Hornsby (1922) and Atlanta’s Davey Johnson (1973) are the only NL second basemen to hit 40 homers in a season. Brian Dozier achieved the feat with Minnesota in 2016.
5) Racing toward a rarity
Sandberg’s career high of 54 stolen bases this season helped him on his way to amassing 344 total. He, Brady Anderson and Barry Bonds are the only players to have recorded seasons of 40 or more home runs and at least 50 stolen bases.
6) Gold standard
This was the span of Sandberg’s nine-year reign as the NL’s Gold Glove-winning second baseman. At the time of his retirement in 1997, his .989 career fielding percentage was a record among Major Leaguers at his position. He topped NL second basemen in assists seven times and in fielding percentage during four seasons.
7) Seizing opportunity
Sandberg thrived in his only two appearances in postseason series, batting .385 (15-for-39). He hit .368 in the 1984 NL Championship Series against San Diego and followed that with a .400 effort in the ’89 NLCS against San Francisco.
8) Return from retirement
Sandberg retired after the 1994 season, which was shortened by a work stoppage. He cited waning desire and declining skills as reasons for his decision. He reconsidered after one year and returned in 1996 to play two seasons, then finished his active career for good. He appeared in 150 games in ’96, marking the 11th time he reached that total.
9) Third time’s a charm
Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility. After receiving 49.2 percent of the vote in 2003 and 61.1 in ’04, he broke through -- barely -- to earn induction with 76.2 percent of ballots cast. Sandberg needed 387 of 516 votes to reach the 75 percent threshold; he collected 393.
10) Forever 23
Aug. 28, 2005
The Cubs retired Sandberg’s jersey No. 23 during a Wrigley Field ceremony before a game against the Marlins. He became the fourth Cub to receive this distinction, joining first baseman Ernie Banks (14), outfielder Billy Williams (26) and third baseman Ron Santo (10). Right-handers Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux (both No. 31) have earned this honor since Sandberg’s inclusion.