This hits home for me not just because Sanderson was part of two Cubs playoff teams, posting an overall 42-24, 3.81 record with 12.2 bWAR for the Cubs, but because he was my age. That’s a scary and sobering thought as you get older, especially when hearing about the passing of a man who was a professional athlete.
Beyond that, though, I knew of Sanderson when he was still in high school at Glenbrook North in Northbrook. Many times, I saw him play basketball for them against my high school, Highland Park. The linked obituary above says Sanderson led Glenbrook North to the Illinois state high school baseball championship in 1974, but I remember him as a standout basketball player, someone I thought might have had a career in the NBA.
But Sanderson chose baseball, and after a standout career at Vanderbilt he was selected in the third round of the MLB draft by the Montreal Expos in 1977. He was in the big leagues the following year and had a fine year for the Expos in their one playoff season, the strike-shortened season of 1981. Here’s video of a grand slam he hit for the Expos against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, September 11, 1982, one of only two home runs he hit in his MLB career:
In the 1983-84 offseason he was traded to the Cubs in a three-way trade that included the Padres; Carmelo Martinez, Craig Lefferts and Fritzie Connally went to San Diego from the Cubs.
Sanderson was injured part of 1984 and made just 24 starts, but he was a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation for that year and for five seasons after that, departing as a free agent after the 1989 season. He wound up playing 19 big-league seasons for seven teams: Cubs, Expos, Yankees, Athletics, Angels, Giants and White Sox, and after his playing career he became a player agent, with offices in Chicago and Atlanta. Per his Wikipedia page, his clients included Frank Thomas, Josh Beckett and Lance Berkman.
I didn’t know Sanderson personally even though we both grew up in the north suburbs and graduated high school in the same year. But everyone who posted tributes to him after his passing said pretty much what Len Kasper did:
Heartfelt condolences to Scott Sanderson's family. Scott was a WONDERFUL person. Local guy who had a great big league career. Couldn't have been any more genial, kind, polite. RIP.— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) April 11, 2019
Bob Ibach, who was the PR director of the Cubs during Sanderson’s era, told me of Sanderson, “He was always pretty private, but was very passionate about his faith, always was a clubhouse leader on Sundays for chapel services,” and also passed along this note from Tony Garofalo, who was the Cubs’ trainer during that time:
Scott was the smartest guy on that ‘84 team: “We sat and watched Jeopardy on TV sometimes and he knew most of the answers. He had some smarts.” One time Scott told Tony that they would never have any Vanderbilt reunions among MLB players “because there would only be one player attending. Me!”
There have been, in fact, quite a few Vanderbilt players in MLB since Sanderson’s time, including current pitchers David Price, Walker Buehler and Sonny Gray, and position players Dansby Swanson and Curt Casali. The Vandy baseball program has become a powerhouse, and Derek Johnson, their longtime pitching coach, worked in the Cubs system for several years and is now the pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds. Before Sanderson’s time in the big leagues, there had been very few Vanderbilt players in MLB, and I can’t help thinking that Sanderson’s success had something to do with helping that school’s baseball program.
My sincere condolences to Scott Sanderson’s family, friends, teammates and all who cheered for him during his baseball career.