Sandberg established himself as a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove candidate, making 10 consecutive All-Star appearances and winning nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1983 to 1991. His career .989 fielding percentage is a major-league record at second base. Sandberg was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2005; he was formally inducted in ceremonies on July 31, 2005.
“The Sandberg Game”
One game in particular was cited for putting Sandberg (as well as the 1984 Cubs in general) “on the map”, an NBC national telecast of a Cardinals–Cubs game on June 23, 1984. The Cubs had been playing well throughout the season’s first few months, but as a team unaccustomed to winning, they had not yet become a serious contender in the eyes of most baseball fans.
As for Sandberg, he had played two full seasons in the major leagues, and while he had shown himself to be a top-fielding second baseman and fast on the basepaths (over 30 stolen bases both seasons), his .260-ish batting average and single-digit home run production were respectable for his position but not especially noteworthy, and Sandberg was not talked about outside Chicago. The Game of the Week, however, put the sleeper Cubs on the national stage against their regional rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams were well-established franchises with strong fan bases outside the Chicago and St. Louis areas.
In the ninth inning, the Cubs trailed 9–8, and faced the premier relief pitcher of the time, Bruce Sutter. Sutter was at the forefront of the emergence of the closer in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was especially dominant in 1984, saving 45 games. However, in the ninth inning, Sandberg, not yet known for his power, slugged a home run to left field against the Cardinals’ ace closer. Despite this dramatic act, the Cardinals scored two runs in the top of the tenth. Sandberg came up again in the tenth inning, facing a determined Sutter with one man on base. As Cubs’ radio announcer Harry Caray described it:
“There’s a drive, way back! Might be outta here! It is! It is! He did it again! He did it again! The game is tied! The game is tied! Holy Cow! Listen to this crowd, everybody’s gone bananas! What would the odds be if I told you that twice Sandberg would hit home runs off Bruce Sutter?”
The Cubs went on to win in the 11th inning. The Cardinals’ Willie McGee, who hit for the cycle, had already been named NBC’s player of the game before Sandberg’s first home run. As NBC play-by-play man Bob Costas (who called the game with Tony Kubek) said when Sandberg hit that second home run, “Do you believe it?!” The game is sometimes called “The Sandberg Game”. The winning run for the Cubs was driven in by a single off the bat of Dave Owen.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …secondbaseman… Ryne Sandberg.