This post isn't about how Ryne Sandberg got passed over as Cubs manager and how he might return to Wrigley Field as manager of the Phillies as soon as this August, and if not then, maybe next year.
Instead, I wanted to look back and celebrate his Cubs career on a day that isn't an anniversary for him of any kind.
For me, Sandberg was the first Hall of Fame player for whom I saw his entire career and development up close. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams had all been established players when I started following baseball closely and Fergie Jenkins spent half his career playing for other teams.
But Sandberg was ours, all ours, despite coming from another organization and getting his first big-league hit as a member of the Phillies at Wrigley Field.
I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I said I "knew" Sandberg was going to be a Hall of Famer from the first day he put on a Cubs uniform. In fact, quite the opposite was the case -- he started his Cubs career 0-for-20 and 1-for-32, but after that slow start in 1982 put together a solid season with 32 stolen bases and 103 runs scored -- just the third Cub to score 100+ runs in a season since 1970.
He repeated a similar season in 1983; still, no one would have thought he'd become the prototype for the power-hitting middle infielder of the 1980s and 1990s. But new manager Jim Frey, a former batting coach, convinced Sandberg he could hit for power without sacrificing average, and ... well, you know the rest.
Sandberg had his hand broken by a pitch during spring training in 1993, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. His power was affected, and his first retirement in 1994 has always made me wonder what kind of career numbers he might have put up if not for that injury (although he did come back with a 25-homer season in 1996). Could he have played longer, maybe coming close to 3,000 hits? Might he have stuck around for one more year, being part of the Cubs' 1998 wild-card team?
Of course, we'll never know. And the 1983 Topps card you see at the top of this post reminds me, at least, of the passage of so many years. Sandberg will be 54 in September. He's older and grayer, as are many of us who cheered for him three decades ago. That card will always be around as a reminder of our youth, though.
And maybe someday, he'll be back in the Cubs' organization.
Topps Archives Baseball is a celebration of the 7Os, 8Os and 9Os, what many consider to be the glory years of card collecting. If you collected Topps Baseball Cards during these years then you will love Topps Archives Baseball. Look for autographs and memorabilia cards from today’s stars and your favorite retired players on classic Topps card designs.