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Today in Cubs history: Ryne Sandberg’s first retirement

It caught almost everyone in baseball by surprise.

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The thing I think all of us will always remember about Ryne Sandberg’s first retirement announcement, 25 years ago today, was the corncob dress his wife Cindy was wearing at the news conference.

Sandberg, who had been a star player for the Cubs for more than a decade, had been hit in the wrist by a pitch by Mike Jackson of the Giants in spring training 1993. He missed more than a quarter of that season and his power appeared gone. He had hit 26 home runs in both 1991 and 1992, but dropped to nine in 1993, and his hitting had suffered again in the first two months of 1994. It didn’t help that the Cubs got off to a horrid start in ‘94, losing their first 12 home games, prompting the famous "firehouse chat" by manager Tom Trebelhorn in late April.

Sandberg didn’t play in the last two games of a series against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field June 11 and 12. No one thought much about it, as Ryno had been in a 1-for-28 slump and Trebelhorn decided to give him some time “to reflect,” reported the Tribune.

Thus it was somewhat of a surprise when a news conference was called on a Cubs off day June 13 and Sandberg announced his retirement:

“I am not the type of person who can be satisfied with anything less than my very best effort and my very top performance,” Sandberg said. “I am not the type of person who can leave my game at the ballpark and feel comfortable that my future is set regardless of my performance.

”And I am certainly not the type of person who can ask the Cubs organization and Chicago Cubs fans to pay my salary when I am not happy with my mental approach and my performance.”

There were rumors flying at the time about the state of his marriage, and that his wife had had affairs, but nothing was ever proven. According to this 1996 Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci, Sandberg simply wanted to spend more time with his kids, Lindsey and Justin:

“A player once said that Ryno really only has two real friends in the world: Lindsey and Justin,” says one Sandberg associate. ”You’re a public figure looking at going through a public divorce. You hate what’s going on with the team, and there’s trouble with your wife. What do you do? It was easy for him to go to the one thing he had to hold on to: the kids. He didn’t need the money. So why stay?”

Says another source, “He quit because of the kids. Like a lot of decisions, it’s never one thing but 800 things. But he had to be with the kids.”

That 1996 article also details his remarriage, how he came to realize he missed baseball, and his return. Sandberg’s comeback in 1996 was successful, as he hit 25 home runs and posted a 3.2 bWAR season. He finally retired for good after 1997, the year he turned 38, and got a nice sendoff at the last home game that year.

One odd note about Sandberg’s first retirement, 25 years ago today on June 13, 1994: It was big news locally in Chicago, of course, and might have been big national news, but it was totally overshadowed in national media by the news that O.J. Simpson’s former wife Nicole had been murdered. That story also broke 25 years ago today.

As for us in Chicago, we'll certainly always remember that corncob dress.