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Sandberg and the Hall
by Derek Smart
My favorite Cub player of all time is Ryne Sandberg. It has an awful lot to do with timing, as the onset of this chronic disease I'll call Cubfanitis coincides very closely with his debut in blue pinstripes. His emergence in 1984, leading Chicago to their first postseason appearance since 1945 was a seminal moment, not just in my fandom, but in recent Cub history.
Yet it wasn't just the success that was attractive - not merely the surprising power at the plate, the smooth elegance in the field - it was his manner, his shyness, the sense of vague discomfort at the attention he received that I always found endearing. Despite his being a Major League ballplayer, a professional athlete, he seemed like someone you could meet in your local diner; reading the paper, eating ham and eggs.
I hesitate to use the phrase "everyman" - besides being hackneyed, it's a stunningly inappropriate description of a man whose skills were elite among the elite. "Everyman" doesn't win the MVP at 24. "Everyman" doesn't win 9 Gold Gloves. "Everyman" isn't named to 10 consecutive All-Star teams. He may have looked like a regular guy, he may have lacked superstar charisma, he may have been uncomfortable with his fame, but he was not everyman. He was special.
Which is why I'm so happy that he's finally been voted into the Hall of Fame. Election on the third ballot isn't a terribly long wait, there are some who have arguably better cases whose rightful induction is still being delayed well beyond that point - Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven being chief among them - so perhaps the word "finally" is a tad overwrought.
Yet, I'm of the mind that a man worthy of being called a Hall of Famer is worthy at the moment his career has ended. There is no sensible waiting period, no need to indicate degrees of prowess or designate a class system within an already hallowed institution. Either you belong or you don't, and further delineation is fruitless and petty.
So I say "finally" because in a perfect world, no Hall-worthy player should have to wait beyond the initial five years. Ryne Sandberg was a Hall of Famer when he retired for good after the 1997 season, he was a Hall of Famer when he became eligible in January 2003, and now, thankfully, he can officially say with pride and conviction, "I am a Hall of Famer."
Congratulations, Ryno, and thanks for all the memories!