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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sandberg Gets the Nod

The highlight for Cubs fans yesterday was the election of Ryne Sandberg to the Hall of Fame. This was his third year of eligibility and he was placed on 393 ballots or 76.2% (you need 75% to be elected). Last year he was on 61.1% of the ballots. Wade Boggs was also elected with 474 votes (91.9%) on his first try.

Although Sandberg had a relatively short career playing just 16 seasons (he retired after the 1994 season and didn't play in 1995) he did have two major things going for him. First, he was considered the premier player at his position during his era (1983-1993). When you think of second baseman during that time Sandberg clearly comes out on top. He was an All-Star from 1984 through 1993. Second, he was a complete player combining both offensive and defensive accomplishments. He won the Gold Glove from 1983 through 1991 to go with his 1984 MVP award and 1990 homerun and total base crowns. He also stole 344 bases topping 50 in 1985. When he retired he was the all-time leader in homeruns for a second baseman with 277 (since surpassed by Jeff Kent). He finished with 282 homeruns. From that perspective he was a little like watching Carlos Beltran play. He didn't have the best statistics but he could do four things to beat an opposing team; get on base, hit with power, steal bases, and play defense.

Cyril Morong has noted that Sandberg is 13th all-time at second base in Win Shares per 648 plate appearances through 2001 with 24.16. The only modern players that top him include Joe Morgan (29.29), Bobby Grich (25.94), Craig Biggio (25.72), and Roberto Alomar (24.96). That also put him 146th all-time. His OPS+ for his career was a very respectable 114.

Sandberg was drafted in the 20th round by the Phillies in 1978 and traded to the Cubs with Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. He played third base in 1982 starting the year about 1-31 before finally turning it around and posting very respectable rookie numbers (172 hits, 32 stolen bases, 103 runs scored, and a .271 AVG). Sandberg was known for his slow starts and generally did not start to hit until into May.

Of course, the game that catapulted Ryno into the national spotlight was his performance against the Cardinals on June 23, 1984. In that game Sandberg went 5 for 6 hitting homeruns off of Bruce Sutter in the 9th and 10th innings to tie the score both times before the Cubs won it in the 11th. As quoted on Whitey Herzog, the Cards manager at the time has said:

"One day I think he's one of the best players in the National League. The next day, I think he's one of the best players I've ever seen."

What I remember most about watching Sandberg play on WGN was how well he could hit fastballs. I recall always being surprised when pitchers would throw him a fastball that was anywhere over the belt. He could turn on anybody's fastball as well as take them to right although he was essentially a pull hitter. He simply hit high fastballs as well as anyone I've ever seen. Consequently, the book on him was to throw sliders down and away and hope he chased them. As he got older, especially noticable in 1996, he started to chase that pitch more and more often, usually resulting in a weak grounder to second. But he could still hit the fastball.

Congrats to Ryno!

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