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The Cubs and their fans said farewell to a future Hall of Famer on this sunny September Sunday.
There are a lot of things I could write about the Cubs' 1997 season, most of them not printable on this site.
They started the season with a 14-game losing streak. That's both a National League record for most losses to open the season, and a team record for losses at any time during the season (and given the 2-14 finish to 1996, it meant the Cubs had gone 2-28 over their last 30 regular-season games). Nope, not going to write about any of those games.
They had losing streaks of five and six in June, and one of nine at the end of July. You don't really want to hear about any of those games either, do you?
I thought not. Instead, let's talk about that season's final home game, an 11-3 win over an equally bad Phillies squad. It was a significant game in Cubs history for two reasons. The previous day, the Cubs had held a pregame celebration to honor the career of Ryne Sandberg, who was retiring for the second time (this time, for good). Sandberg would play one final game at Wrigley, on a sunny Sunday. The crowd was somewhat smaller (29,922) than the full house of 38,313 who had shown up for the ceremony honoring Sandberg, but just as appreciative, as Bill Jauss wrote in the Tribune:
Ryne Sandberg had two hits in his last Cubs appearance before the Wrigley Field faithful and Tapani (8-3) earned his 100th major-league victory, touching off a celebration more appropriate for a World Series winner than a fifth-place team 24 games under .5OO. Sandberg left in the fifth inning after a single. "Riggs and I talked before the game about a pinch runner," he said. "Before I went up the last time, he said, `Get a base hit this at-bat.' " Miguel Cairo ran for him and Sandberg left to a standing ovation. "It was good coming out and being able to sit there and read the banners and bedsheets," he said.
Miguel Cairo. Who the Cubs gave up on four years later -- and he went on to a useful career as a bench player for six other teams, playing in six postseasons.
As it turned out, that was the last hit of Sandberg's career; he went 0-for-10 on the season-ending road trip, and after going 0-for-2 against the Cardinals in St. Louis on the season's final day, he was also lifted, getting a nice ovation from the Cubs fans there. So, Sandberg's first and last hits were on late-season Sundays at Wrigley, the first one as a member of the Phillies in 1981, the last as a Cub 16 years later.
There was one more "last" that Sunday at Wrigley Field, though no one knew it at the time. Harry Caray had stopped doing road games that year; Josh Lewin had been hired to do the road telecasts and back up Harry at home, and so that game was Harry's final broadcast of the season. He made a few "see you next year" remarks, and in December 1997, his grandson Chip was hired to share duty with Harry on WGN-TV, reported by Michael Hirsley in the Tribune:
Station manager Jim Zerwekh denied that bringing in the younger Caray signaled any transition for the season after next. "We look at Cubs baseball on an annual basis," he said. "And we want Harry to work as long as he wants." Zerwekh said the two Carays will do play-by-play together for Cubs home games, possibly splitting innings at times, while Steve Stone returns as color commentator and Josh Lewin comes back for his second season as play-by-play announcer for telecasts of Cubs road games.
Harry passed away, aged 84, on February 18, 1998; he and his grandson never got to work together, and so on that September afternoon at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans saw the last of two franchise icons.