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Monday, February 09, 2004

At Least The Red Sox Have 1918 Hall Of Fame: Ryne Sandberg 

Ryne Sandberg interviewd by legendary broadcaster Harry CarayWhitey Herzog called Ryne Sandberg the best player he'd ever seen in 1984. In a People Magazine article that same year, Ralph Novak speculated, "If Theodore Roosevelt were alive, he'd probably be a Sandberg booster too, admiring as he did people who speak softly as well as carry a big stick." Evidently, thirty-nine percent of the ten-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America see something that Herzog missed, and, presumably, Teddy Roosevelt would have overlooked. As early as 1991, writers in such respected sporting publications as Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News hailed Ryno as a sure-fire, first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown's loss, however, is Sox-1918's gain, and I am proud to introduce Ryne Sandberg as the first member of the At Least The Red Sox Have 1918 Hall Of Fame.

Sandberg's road to Sox-1918 immortality began in the 1978 Amateur Draft, when he was chosen in the 20th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. A star quarterback at Spokane's North Central High School (the baseball field there has been named after him for years now), Sandberg's draft position was without a doubt effected by the numerous Division I football scholarships being presented to him at the time, including offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma, and eight of the ten Pac-10 universities. Sandberg showed that he could hit for average at the minor league level in subsequent seasons, but his lack of power and high strikeout totals had the Phillies' management convinced he would be no more than a utility infielder in the big leagues. After only six at-bats in thirteen games for the Phillies during his September call-up of 1981, the team decided Sandberg was expendable, and on January 27, 1982, he was traded to the Cubs, a mere throw-in to go with shortstop Larry Bowa, for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. DeJesus wasn't terrible (he led the NL in runs in 1978 for the Northsiders, although he didn't do too much for the Phillies), but Sandberg became a legend as a result of one of baseball history's most one-sided trades.

New York Times newsbrief on the Sandberg-Bowa tradeSandberg will surely be remembered as one of the best-fielding second basemen of all time, winning the National League Gold Glove award at the position nine times (Nine times? Niiiiiiiiiine tiiiiiiiiiiiiiimes). Although his approach in the field was far from textbook, Sandberg compensated with a strong arm for his position and remarkable hands. Despite his unorthodox last-second stabs at ground balls with his glove, Sandberg broke the consecutive errorless games record at second base twice. Don "Gerbil" Zimmer once said of Sandberg, "For him to field like that he must have outstanding hands, outstanding hands." An entire generation of kids growing up with me in Ketchikan, Alaska (and certainly in other locales as well), with the only regular baseball broadcast being the Cubs on WGN, mimicked Sandberg's glovework, much to the chagrin of our Little League coaches.

As amazing as Sandberg was as a fielder, how he will always be remembered will be as a great hitter, one of the best in the National League in the 1980's. From his 1984 National League Most Valuable Player season, when he hit nineteen triples to go with nineteen home runs, to his 25-homer comeback season of 1996, Ryne Sandberg put up numbers comparable to just about any middle infielder Cooperstown has honored.

Ryne Sandberg will always be remembered by fans of my generation as not only a great ballplayer, but as a model citizen as well. He has touched Cubs fans, Spokanites, and casual baseball fans alike in ways no one has quite duplicated. For these reasons, Sandberg leads the list of Sox-1918 Hall Of Famers. Stay tuned until opening day, as we will be inducting several other members of the inaugural class of the At Least The Red Sox Have 1918 Hall Of Fame.

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