Chicago Officially Immortalizes #23

Ryan Sandberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and traded to the Chicago Cubs following the 1981 season. He would go on to play 16 more years at the highest possible level in baseball for the Cubs. For the first seven of those years I was not even a twinkle in my parents eyes. I did not become a diehard Cubs fan until 1998 the season after he retired. He is slightly older than the legendary Chicago Bull Michael Jordan and wore the #23 in a Chicago team’s uniform before Jordan was drafted by the Bulls. Today the Cubs are immortalizing Ryan with a statue!

Ryan Sandberg, often referred to as “Ryno,” is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of the Chicago Cubs. His career, spanning from his early days through his tenure with the Cubs, is a story of resilience, talent, and an enduring connection with baseball fans.

Early Life and College Years

Ryan Sandberg was born on September 18, 1959, in Spokane, Washington. He exhibited exceptional athletic ability from a young age, excelling in both baseball and football at North Central High School. His prowess on the football field earned him a scholarship offer from Washington State University, but it was his talent in baseball that would define his future.

Despite the allure of college football, Sandberg chose to pursue a professional baseball career. In 1978 (one year after my older brother was born), he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the MLB draft. Being drafter marked the start of Sandberg’s journey in the Phillies’ minor league system. He would quickly showcase his potential to the point where he made his Major League debut within his first season. Then he was traded to the Cubs!

Breakthrough with the Cubs

The trade to the Cubs proved to be a turning point in Sandberg’s life. Initially, he played multiple positions, including third base and shortstop, but it was his move to second base in 1983 that set the stage for his rise to prominence. Sandberg’s defensive skills were immediately apparent, and his offensive capabilities began to flourish.

In 1984, Sandberg had a breakout season that would establish him as one of the premier players in the league. He batted .314 with 19 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 32 stolen bases. His performance earned him the National League MVP Award, making him the first Cubs player to win the honor since Ernie Banks in 1959.

The 1984 season also featured one of Sandberg’s most iconic performances, known as “The Sandberg Game.” On June 23, in a nationally televised game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sandberg hit game-tying home runs in both the ninth and tenth innings off future Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter. The Cubs eventually won the game in extra innings, and Sandberg’s heroics became a defining moment in his career and in Cubs’ history.

Defensive Excellence

Sandberg quickly established himself as one of the premier defensive second basemen in the league. His agility, range, and strong arm were complemented by an unerring baseball IQ, making him a central figure in the Cubs’ infield. His defensive prowess earned him nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1983 to 1991, a testament to his consistency and skill.

One of Sandberg’s most memorable defensive plays came on September 30, 1984, during the Cubs’ division-clinching game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sandberg made a diving stop on a hard-hit ground ball, preserving a critical lead and helping the Cubs secure their first postseason appearance since 1945. This moment encapsulated Sandberg’s value to the team and his ability to perform under pressure.

Offensive Consistency

While Sandberg was initially recognized for his defense, his offensive capabilities soon garnered equal acclaim. From 1984 to 1993, he was a perennial All-Star, selected to the All-Star Game ten times during this span. He also led the league in runs scored three times (1984, 1989, 1990) and in home runs once (1990). Sandberg’s 1990 season was particularly noteworthy, as he hit 40 home runs, setting a then-record for most home runs in a season by a second baseman.

Beyond his statistical achievements, Sandberg was known for his leadership and work ethic. He led by example, both on and off the field, earning the respect of teammates, opponents, and fans alike. His approach to the game was one of professionalism and dedication, attributes that endeared him to the Wrigley Field faithful.

Challenges and Retirement

Sandberg’s career wasn’t without its challenges. In 1994, at the age of 34, he decided to retire from baseball, citing personal reasons and a loss of enjoyment for the game. His retirement came as a shock to many, as he was still performing at a high level. During his time away from the game, Sandberg focused on his family and other personal interests, but his love for baseball never waned.

In 1996, Sandberg made a triumphant return to the Cubs. Though he was older and not quite the player he once was, his presence provided a boost to the team and its fans. Sandberg played two more seasons before retiring for good after the 1997 season. His comeback demonstrated his enduring passion for the game and his commitment to the Cubs.

Legacy and Hall of Fame Induction

Ryan Sandberg’s legacy is cemented baseball history. He retired with a .285 batting average, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBIs, and 344 stolen bases. His 277 home runs as a second baseman remained a record until Jeff Kent surpassed it in 2004.

In 2005, Sandberg’s contributions to the game were immortalized when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his heartfelt induction speech, he spoke about the values of hard work, integrity, and respect for the game, emphasizing the qualities that had defined his career.

Sandberg’s No. 23 jersey was retired by the Cubs in 2005, ensuring that no other player would wear the number that had become synonymous with excellence at second base. His statue outside Wrigley Field serves as a reminder of his impact and the joy he brought to countless fans.

Post-Playing Career

After his playing days, Sandberg continued to contribute to the game he loved. He worked as a minor league manager within the Cubs organization, honing the skills of young players and imparting the lessons he had learned over his illustrious career. His managerial stint included leading the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and the Double-A Tennessee Smokies.

Sandberg’s managerial success in the minors eventually led to an opportunity at the major league level. In 2013, he was hired as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that had originally drafted him. Though his managerial tenure with the Phillies was only three years and he went 119-159 he has remained a significant figure here in Chicago especially since the Ricketts family bought the team in 2011.

Personal Life and Philanthropy

Beyond baseball, Sandberg has been actively involved in philanthropic endeavors. His battle with cancer deepened his commitment to health-related causes, and he has participated in numerous charity events and fundraisers to support cancer research and awareness. Sandberg’s efforts off the field reflect his character and the values he has always espoused.

Sandberg’s personal life has also been marked by his dedication to family. He and his wife, Margaret, have been active in various community activities, and Sandberg’s role as a father and grandfather is a source of pride for him. His life outside of baseball is a testament to his ability to balance professional success with personal fulfillment.

Influence on Future Generations

Ryan Sandberg’s influence extends beyond his own playing days. His approach to the game, characterized by hard work, dedication, and integrity, serves as a model for young players. Sandberg’s legacy is evident in the way he is remembered by those who watched him play and by the new generations of players who aspire to follow in his footsteps.

Sandberg’s involvement in the Cubs organization as a minor league manager allowed him to directly impact the development of future stars. His teachings and mentorship have left an indelible mark on many players who have gone on to have successful careers in the majors. Sandberg’s ability to translate his on-field success into effective coaching underscores his deep understanding of the game and his passion for nurturing talent.

Battle with Cancer

Late in 2023 news broke that Sandberg was diagnosed with prostate cancer. True to his nature, Sandberg faced this battle with courage and determination. He is undergoing treatment and expected to make a full recovery. He is also using his experience to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and regular health screenings. Sandberg

Some personal notes here:

First, many women on my mom’s side of the family have been diagnosed with and recovered from breast cancer. 

Second, my idol Steve Jobs was diagnosed with the Pancreatic Cancer while I was in grammar school. He would fully recover from it and run Apple, Inc. until August 2011, while I was still in college, before passing away on October 5, 2011.

Last but not least, my father was diagnosed with cancer, which I will leave unnamed, and fully recovered from it while I was in college before passing away  on December 28, 2011. 

At the end of the day, cancer is horrible. The fact that Ryno was diagnosed with cancer hit close to home for me considering others who I have known and followed throughout my life survived cancer. 

Here’s the thing folks: Ryan Sandberg’s playing career with the Chicago Cubs may have been before I was a diehard fan. However, it is a story of excellence, perseverance, and dedication. From his early days as a versatile infielder to his emergence as one of the game’s premier second basemen, Sandberg’s impact on the Cubs and baseball as a whole is undeniable. His defensive wizardry, offensive power, and leadership qualities made him a beloved figure in Chicago and a respected name in the baseball world.

Sandberg’s legacy is one of hard work, integrity, and a deep love for the game. He remains a symbol of what it means to be a Chicago Cub, and his contributions continue to inspire future generations of players and fans. As we look back on his career, it’s clear that Ryan Sandberg’s place in baseball history is well-deserved and his impact will be felt for years to come.

With that… we are hours away from one city officially immortalizing #23 in this fans books.

If you cannot play with them, then root for them!

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