By In Baseball

No. 78: Ryne Sandberg

So, I have a friend, a huge Cardinals fan, who is one of the most caring people I know. With that said, she has what even she will admit (on her better days) is an irrational sports-hatred (Clemenation) of Ryne Sandberg. She despises more or less all Cubs, but Sandberg is the 100-meter dash in her Olympics of Cubs Loathing. She abhors him, detests him, cannot stand him. She has never quite been able to express WHY she so thoroughly despises Sandberg other than to pin various traits to him that he may or may not exhibit.*

*I do not judge her. I have felt similarly about John Elway.

But I’ve always thought there was something else at work. See, my friend lives in mortal fear that someday the Chicago Cubs will actually win the World Series. She realizes this is a cruel thought and will concede (again, when the better angels of her nature take hold) that it’s wrong to feel that way, that many Cubs fans are good people, that they have suffered enough, that they really do deserve a World Series championship. But this generosity soon passes and she’s back to worrying that somehow the Cubs will win the World Series one day and end the one perfect record she has in her life.

Sandberg, I think, represents the closest thing the Cubs have had the last 40 or so years to a savior, a liberator, the kind of player who could actually break the spell and lead the Cubs across the desert and into the World Series. I think that’s what scared my friend about him. The Cubs have had numerous good players over the last 40 years, but none of them felt quite complete. None of them seemed likely to take the Cubs to the Promised Land.

Sammy Sosa was joyful (in his early years) and he smashed home runs all over the place and he had this great arm, but he grew less and less fun over time, and he more or less stopped fielding. Andre Dawson was great, but he wasn’t really a Cub — his best years were in Montreal. Mark Prior was dominant enough, but he could not stay healthy, and neither could Kerry Wood. Mark Grace could hit and he won some Gold Gloves but first basemen without home run power can test even the strongest fan’s patience

Sandberg came to the Cubs when they needed him most. The Cubs post World War II have had what I would call three utterly dreadful runs. In the late 1940s and for much of the 1950s, the Cubs had an astonishing run of awful scouting. This seemed purposeful in an odd way — Phil Wrigley, the team’s owner, did not believe that Major League teams should use minor league teams like their own personal stables. He believed that was bad for the game. It was an admirable stance, but terrible for business. The Cubs simply had no outlet to acquire players (other than the Negro Leagues where they found Ernie Banks, George Altman and others) and the team was dreadful year after year after year until Wrigley finally gave in and let the Cubs scout the way other teams did.

The second dreadful run was in the 1970s and early 1980s after the Cubs just made many, many bad decisions.

The third, well is what they’re going through now.

But back to the 1982 — the Cubs had not had a winning record in nine years. The good but doomed teams of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo and Billy Williams and others were tiny in the rear view mirror. The 1980 Cubs team were illustrative of the era — they lost 98 games and they seemed like a modern art representation of a baseball team. That team had four relievers in the bullpen who would have 30-save seasons: Bruce Sutter (who won a Cy Young and is in the Hall of Fame); Bill Caudill (who saved 36 games on year and was an All-Star); Willie Hernandez (who won the MVP award in 1984) and Lee Smith (who led the league in saves four times). And yet, their pitching staff was awful.

Meanwhile, despite playing half their games at Wrigley Field, their regular infielders hit 26 home runs. That’s all of them, total, and that includes their catcher. Dave Kingman, who had led the league with 48 homers for the Cubs in 1979 and was the closest thing to a star on the team, was hurt and surly and the Cubs traded him after the year ended. It was like that — the team didn’t just lose, they lost with a hopelessness that left fans drinking in the bleachers.

The Cubs made one of baseball’s all-time steals when they traded shortstop Ivan de Jesus to the Phillies for Larry Bowa and Sandberg. This trade has never made any sense on any level for the Phillies. First, Philadelphia GM Paul Owens apparently wanted to shed Bowa — who was turning 36 — for a “young shortstop.” OK, I can get behind that. But de Jesus was 29 already, not exactly a kid. What’s more, he was coming off a season where he hit .194/.276/.233. So that made zero sense.

The other bit of faulty logic was that the Phillies clearly did not get Sandberg. He was a superior athlete — he had been an All-American quarterback in high school — who hit .310/.403/.469 with blossoming power and speed in Class AA. He was only slightly less effective in Class AAA. He was only 21. He was a major prospect, something that the Cubs — a team that was not exactly known for their shrewdness in player evaluation — saw clearly. The Phillies reportedly made some negligible attempts to get the Cubs to take a different prospect, but the Cubs insisted on Sandberg and apparently a couple of Phillies scouts shrugged and said that Sandberg would never be more than a utility infielder anyway.

Well, maybe it does make sense. Maybe a team that sees Ivan de Jesus as a young shortstop would see Sandberg as a utility infielder. The Phillies would soon go through a stretch of 12 losing seasons in 13 years.

Sandberg played third base for the Cubs his rookie year — a solid rookie year — then in 1983 he moves to second base where he promptly won a Gold Glove. In 1984, he hit .314, slugged .520, led the league with 114 runs and 19 triples, stole 32 bases and won another Gold Glove. For that, he was named league MVP.

That’s also the year the Cubs reached the postseason — first time in 39 years. Sandberg wasn’t the only player to have a great season, of course. It’s never one guy. Rick Sutcliffe came over in a trade from Cleveland, and the Cubs won 17 of his 19 starts, including 15 in a row. Dennis Eckersley and Steve Trout and Scott Sanderson all pitched solid baseball. Ron Cey at age 36 popped 25 homers, Leon the Bull Durham hit 23 more, Bobby Dernier got on base and stole 45, The Sarge Gary Mathews scored 101 runs. The Cubs led the National League in runs scored.

But the centerpiece was Sandberg, always Sandberg, getting things started, getting into the middle of rallies, changing what the Cubs were as a team. He hit .362/.420/.619 in high leverage situations that year, if you would like the quantify the point, but really it’s not about those numbers. There was this sense that something fundamental had shifted with the Cubs. They were no longer the clownish team with the shirtless fans in the stadium without lights. Ryno had made them respectable.

I think, at the heart of things, that’s why my friend really despises him. For a while it looked like the Cubs, with Ryne Sandberg, would win a World Series.

Sandberg did everything but walk in his somewhat short but brilliant career. Those relative lack of walks (his carer OBP was .344) — and the way he was helped by the hitting comfort of Wrigley Field — might put him behind other middle infielders like Barry Larkin and Robbie Alomar on many people’s greatest players lists. That’s fair. But the way I see it, Sandberg also played in a low-scoring era (which more or less balances his Wrigley advantage) and, at his best, he was the better player. Alomar and Larkin, great as they were, never had a season as good as Sandberg in ’84 and maybe not as good as Sandberg’s 1992 (when Larkin hit .304/.371/.510 with 32 doubles, 26 homers, 22 stolen bases, a 145 OPS+, and a Gold Glove). Sandberg hit with more power, could really run and his defensive numbers more or less back up his nine Gold Gloves (he may not have deserved ALL of them, but he deserved most of them). There aren’t many middle infielders in the history of baseball who could do all that.

And he really did change the character of a franchise, at least for a while. Of course the Cubs never got to the World Series with Ryno, but they got close. He did all he could. He hit .385/.457/.641 in the two losing playoff series. Close is better than the usual when it comes to the Cubbies.

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60 Responses to No. 78: Ryne Sandberg

  1. Adam says:

    My favorite player of all time. So sad that the Cubs didn’t hire him to manage — their loss is the Phillies’ gain.

  2. MCD says:

    I obviously don’t know Joe’s friend, but if she is a Cardinal’s fan and hates Sandberg, it probably has a lot to do with June 23, 1984. (aka “The Sandberg game”)

    • Byrne says:

      more likely, Sandberg/Cub hatred is the result of the regional rivalry. Red city vs blue city, politically. What else is a native St Louisian/downstate IL/St Louis sports fan going to crow about to their rival? The city itself? C’mon, Downtown St Louis closes at 8 PM on a Saturday night. The Blues? They remain the only NHL team from the original expansion era to still be in search of their first meaningful game. Rams…well, even people in St Louis don’t seem to care about the Rams. NBA basketb..oh, right. Mizzou athletics? Good teams sometimes. I don’t think they’ve won any championship in any sport in my lifetime. So they have the Cardinals and the Cubs traditionally stink. So just like when the White Sox won in 2005 they had something to chirp about. When/if the Cubs ever cash one in, they’ll have nothing except for, I dunno, murder rate comparisons, or Liberty Mullets, or most German-Americans in one confined area or something.

      • Chavalo says:

        I’m not here to argue the merits of St. Louis vs Chicago, but your baseless and ill-informed opening comment of ‘red city vs blue city, politically’ is so obtuse that I cannot for the life of me understand where you live. St. Louis is one of the most reliably ‘blue’ cities in the whole country. So much so, that it, along with KC, nearly carry the state. You want to torch the STL, fine, but don’t be an ignorant hater.

        • Byrne says:

          yeah that’s probably why Obama was booed out of the building a few years ago. It’s a red city and certainly a red state, dingus.

        • Spencer says:

          You’re both dinguses.

          St. Louis is a blue city, not red, just like virtually every metropolitan area in the United states.

          It’s no more reliably blue than any other city, they’re all reliably blue (except Cincinnati I believe)

      • nightfly says:

        Being a hockey fan, I take exception to your “Blues still search for their first meaningful game.” They made 25 consecutive postseasons and three Stanley Cup Finals. It’s true that they were swept each time, but I would argue that reaching those finals and playing in them represent meaningful games… to say nothing of tough Game 7 losses in 1986, 19909, 1993, and 1996. (And that doesn’t include any big wins they got to advance to those rounds, of which there were several.)

        So really, you’re just bellyaching about how awesome Chicago is because your teams have been marginally more successful over the past three decades, primarily because of the Bulls. Congrats on your city dominating a sport in which St. Louis doesn’t compete. I’m sure it’s a personal triumph.

  3. Will3pin says:

    Was always a big fan of Sandberg. Not to diminish his accomplishments, but he certainly was a beneficiary of the SuperStation era – when WGN was picked up by most cable outlets and all Cub games were available nationally. Prior to that, it was still mostly Game of the Week for most of the country. Nationwide, folks turned in to hear Harry Carey, and watch the resurgent Cubs, led by the youthful, good-looking, and sportsmanlike Sandberg.

    Ryno certainly made the most of his Game of the Week moment in the summer of ’84. Hitting two game-tying home runs of Bruce Sutter might have won him the MVP.

    Bob Costas with the call:

    • Cathead says:

      TBS for the Atlanta Braves was also a cable innovator which put baseball on the air everyday. I don’t know who came first – WGN or TBS – or which had the better cable coverage map, but they did change the way baseball was watched for awhile. The 1982 Braves is still one of my favorite all time teams.

  4. Will3pin says:

    >> “I have felt similarly about John Elway.”

    Take it back, Joe.

  5. tmohr says:

    Wait a second – Dallas Green was the Cubs GM, not the Phillies GM when that trade was made. I don’t know who was the Phillies GM at the time, but much as I disliked Green, he deserves credit for the trade, not contempt.

    • Pat says:

      Yeah, it was Green who acquired him for the Cubs. Paul Owens was the Phils GM at the time.

    • johnq11 says:

      Yeah, I saw that right away.

      First off, Green was never the Phillies G.M., he was the manager from 1979-1981. Paul Owens was the Phillies G.M. from 1972 to 1984.

      The Tribune company bought the Cubs from the Wrigley family after the 1981 season. One of the first things they did was hire Dallas Green to be their G.M.

      Green having been the Phillies manager new the young players in the Philies minor leagues. He knew how good Sandberg was and engineered that trade for him. The crazy thing was Sandberg was a “throw in” in that deal. I think it was more a deal that Owens wanted to get rid of Bowa either because of age or salary. Anyway it’s one of the worst trades in baseball history.

      De Jesus was a horrible hitter and was way overrated as a defensive SS.

      Green also plucked away other young Phillies players like Keith Moreland, Bob Dernier and Dickie Noles. In retrospect the Moreland-Noles for Mike Krukow trade was pretty terrible from a Cubs perspective.

      Green also traded away Dennis Eckersley for nothing.

      He also made a bad trade in the Jay Howell & Bill Caudil for Pat Tabler trade.

      He traded Scott Fletcher for nothing.

      He traded Willie Hernandez for Dick Ruthven.

      He traded Lee Smith for Al Nipper.

      Then the following year after Green left, the Cubs made one of their worst trades: Palmeiro & Jamie Moyer for Mitch Williams.

      • Um, no says:

        Wow, a lot of misinformation in that comment. It reeks of the 21st century fan’s “either great or sucks” binary mentality.
        – De Jesus was solid, his ’81 campaign notwithstanding. Bill James has him in the top 100 shortstops of all-time, which is a nice endorsement. He scored 90+ runs/season three years in a row, back when middle infielders typically were not putting up great numbers. Not a star, but in no way a “horrible hitter” or “overrated fielder.”
        – Moreland-Noles for Krukow was not a terrible trade. Probably a net loss for the Cubs, but not a bad one. Moreland was a useful player because of his versatility and passable bat.
        – On the surface, the Eckersley trade was a terrible one. The extenuating circumstance, however, was that his alcoholism worsened in ’86 because the Cubs’ day-only home schedule allowed him to carouse at night. Credit Eck for sobering up with the A’s, but Green’s suspicion that Eck was through was understandable.
        – Green netted Steve Trout, a key member of the ’84 team, for Fletcher. Probably a push in terms of player value, but you’re dead wrong in stating the Cubs got nothing for him.
        – You’re correct that Hernandez for Ruthven was terrible.
        – Jim Frey traded Lee Smith for Al Nipper, so you’re dead wrong on that one too.

  6. Mickey says:

    Contrary to your tweet, Sandburg was never Chicago’s Hope for the half of the city that doesn’t cheer for the Cubs.

    • Buttemaker says:

      By half, you mean 15%?

      • Mickey says:

        all studies of chicago area fandom show a pretty even split between Sox and Cubs. Beyond the area, the Cubs have a much larger national following because of the Superstation exposure, nostalgia about the decrepit ball park, and their unprecedented embrace of the lovable loser image.

        • Which hunt? says:

          Hate on the Cubs all you want, but don’t dis Wrigley. That place is beautiful. There is not a bad seat in the house, unlike some other historic parks *coughFenwaycough*

          • Peter Harris says:

            You might get a bad seat at fenway, but you are watching a good team. That has to count for something. It’s a great ballpark.

  7. piehead says:

    Ryne Sandberg ran over my dog. His wife was good for team spirit though.

  8. mrgjg says:

    “(when Larkin hit .304/.371/.510 with 32 doubles, 26 homers, 22 stolen bases, a 145 OPS+, and a Gold Glove)”.

    I’m sure you meant Sandberg.

    • NRJyzr says:

      Yes, Sandberg is the one who hit 26 HR in 1992.
      The (mildly) amusing thing about the typo, Larkin also hit .304 that season, and his OBP of .377 is reasonably close to Sandberg’s. They diverge in slugging (Larkin hit only 12 HR), though.

  9. mrgjg says:

    Larkin vs.Ryno comes down to durability. Larkin was a better percentage player, he just couldn’t stay in the line-up. Sandbergs peak is what separates them, but that’s mainly because Larkin always seemed to miss just enough time to camouflage some of his better seasons.
    That’s what happened though, Ryno did accrue real value because of that so this rating seems about right.

  10. That would be the 15% with the. World Series banner, yes?

  11. I remember a couple of times when the wind was blowing out to RF in Wrigley and he seemed to have a knack for getting the ball up in the air to the opposite field and letting the wind blow it out. It was quite annoying. I don’t know how often it happened, but it happened more than once when I watched him play against the Dodgers. Once was more than enough. It almost felt like cheating, though obviously it was just smart baseball.

  12. Brent says:

    Honestly having lived in both St. Louis and Chicago, Joe, the feeling most Cardinals fans seem to have for Cubs fans is pity, not loathing. As can be seen earlier in these comments, it is the South Sox fans who truly cannot stand their Cub brethren, mostly for the smug superior attitude Cubs’ fans seem to take with regard to the Pale Hose (not sure why they have such a feeling of superiority since the ChiSox have been the better franchise for about 7 decades)

  13. Eric Hanauer says:

    He reinvented himself. In the early 90s he became a power hitter and once led the league in home runs (40). I wonder how good he could have been without his early “retirement” when he couldn’t stand Larry Himes. He came back a year and a half later but wasn’t the same ballplayer.

  14. Ryan Hoffman says:

    Don’t know how Sandberg over Utley is justified, let alone Alomar.

    • Karyn says:

      You’re joking about Utley, of course. As a Braves fan, I assure you that he is no Ryno.

      • Ross says:

        Meant for this reply to go here, but ended up all the way at the bottom:

        Sandberg (16 seasons): 2164 G, .285/.344/.452, 114 OPS+, 282 HR, 344 SB (76.2% success rate), 67.6 bWAR, 59.5 oWAR, 12.8 dWAR

        Utley (11 seasons): 1323 G, .287/.373/.498, 126 OPS+, 217 HR, 129 SB (88.4% success rate), 58.2 bWAR, 48.6 oWAR, 17.0 dWAR

        Best 5-year peak:

        Sandberg (1988-92): .291/.357/.494, 133 OPS+, 141 HR, 21 SB (75% success), 32.6 bWAR

        Utley (2005-09): .301/.388/.535, 135 OPS+, 146 HR, 77 SB (88.5% success), 39.5 bWAR

        Similar to the comparisons between Larkin and some of his contemporaries, Utley has had trouble staying healthy, especially in recent years. When he’s playing he’s been a superior player to Sandberg, however, in many ways highly superior. With only having played 61% as many games as Sandberg, he’s already at 86% of Ryno’s career WAR.

        Over the past 4 years, Utley has averaged just 108 games but has still racked up 16.1 WAR over that stretch (and a 119 OPS+). If he stays reasonably healthy and plays just 3-4 more years, this won’t even be an argument by the time all is said and done.

  15. Wilbur says:

    Two memories of Ryno the player:
    1. He was the best 3-0 hitter I ever saw. If he KNEW a fastball was coming and he correctly zoned it, he consistently crushed it.
    2. He was the most accurate thrower for a position player I ever saw. I never recall him making a throwing error.

    That said, his playing record was no reason for the Cubs to consider hiring him as a manager.

    • Chip S. says:

      Sandberg’s minor-league managing record was ample reason for the Cubs to consider hiring him as a manager. Theo’s stated reason for not hiring him (“we know the team will be bad for a few years and we’d have to fire him”) is pure idiocy.

    • hunsecker says:

      I have memories of Roberto Alomar on defense that don’t seem to jibe with the statistical record, so I hesitate to question yours, Wilbur. But I looked up Sandberg’s career splits, and, if I’m reading everything correctly, he had 161 PA in his career where a 3-0 count led to a result on the next pitch: 157 times he walked, and he had one hit the other four times (albeit a HR). Maybe you’re melding 3-0 and 3-1 counts together. In 274 3-1 counts, his career line was.365/.628/.660 with 11 HR…but all hitters do well with such a favorable count, so I don’t know if that’s particularly noteworthy.

      (In Sandberg’s career breakdown by count, there are 160 PA unaccounted for.)

  16. Chad Meisgeier says:

    I would actually put Sandberg a little bit higher.

    For my number 78, I would go with Jackie Robinson.

    • Danny says:

      Chad whats the criteria for your list? Are current players included? How about PED users? Just wondering how you are rating everyone.

      • Chad Meisgeier says:

        Yes. I am including current players and PED users. Just based on the field. Even Pete Rose is on my list.

        Nothing scientific. Just having fun. Lists like this are what some of the best tavern debates are made of.

        Joe know ten times more baseball than I do. Like I said, just getting joy out of reading and playing along.

  17. jroth95 says:

    My father and grandfather were both lifelong Cubs fans (they were living across Waveland when my dad was born). Born in New York, I was a Mets fan, but I rooted for the Cubs as well (in the ’70s and early ’80s, it was pretty irrelevant). My grandfather died on New Years Day ’84, and I was sure their run that year was a result of Gramps rooting for them from above. That summer my sister and I stayed with my grandmother, and took the L to see Ryno beat the Dodgers in the bottom of the 10th with a homer. It was amazing.

    We were living in Miami, but the Cubs in the playoffs was a huge deal: Game 1 was a day game (of course), and at the end of the day, my Jr. HS vice principal, known hardass Mr. French, announced the score over the PA – I think they were up 10-0, and it was 13-0 by the time I got home. Then on Sunday (Game 5), we went to morning Mass and the priest promised to keep the homily short so we could all get home for the game. I was devastated that night, and still hate Steve Garvey (not that I ever liked him).

  18. johnq11 says:

    I can’t see Sandberg ranked as the 78th best player of all time especially with pitchers and Negro League players mixed in? He’s probably about 110th all time between MLB pitcher+players, about 130th-140th if you include Negro League players.

    I think Sandberg is a tad overrated. I think he benefitted from void in N.L. second basemen after the Morgan and Lopes era ended in the early 80’s and before Craig Biggio emerged at second in the early 90’s. There was a big gap between Sandberg and the next closest N.L. 2b, probably Robby Thompson and Bill Doran.

    Actually Bobby Grich was better than Sandberg so I’m curious as to where Joe ranked Grich.

    I think Sandberg gets a lot of cache because he played for the Cubs and he was seen as a quasi savior for the Cubs. Hey the Cubs had their savior in Greg Maddux but they let him leave via free agency.

    The Cubs were/are the most inept franchise in baseball. Cubs fans are unique because they go to games “regardless” of how good the team is doing. Actually it seems like they actually enjoy the futility more. This is mainly due to the fact that Wrigley Field is in a quasi residential area and it’s essentially a hang out or party area for their white suburban fans. I’ve been to almost every park or stadium in baseball and I’ve never seen anything like the crowds/fans at Wrigley. It’s just very unique.

    As a result, there’s not much pressure to improve the team because the fans will still watch or come to the games regardless.

    Also, the Cubs are in the third largest media market in the U.S. and they act like they’re fielding a team in Wichita. The Cubs should have dominated that Central division the N.L. during the wild card era.

    The Cubs are also a media darlings so their players tend to be overrated. Check out the wacky MVP/Cy Young voting in 1984. Rick Sutcliffe only pitched 2/3 of a season in the N.L. was the first and only starting pitcher in MLB history to not qualify for the era title yet go on to win the Cy Young award.

    Wrigley field is also a great hitter’s park so they tend to overrate their hitters and greatly underrate their pitchers. As a result they tended to trade away a lot of good-great pitchers for almost nothing. Bill James use to say that this is the “Fenway Factor.” because the Red Sox were famous for over ratted their hitters and underrated their hitters.

    Rick Reuschel probably should be in the HOF but he was never properly seen as a great pitcher, partly because he pitched at Wrigley and partly because the Cubs had horrible fielding teams and horrible offensive teams in the 1970’s.

    Some of their trades post 1969 were awful.

    They traded Rafael Palmeiro & Jamie Moyer for Mitch Williams

    They traded Joe Niekro, Bill North, Larry Gura and Scott Fletcher for basically nothing.

    They traded Bill Madlock for an over the hill Bobby Murcer.

    They traded Rick Reuschel & Dennis Eckersly for nothing.

    They traded Jay Howell and Bill Caudil for nothing.

    They traded away Willie Hernandez and Lee Smith for basically nothing.

    It’s pretty amazing the amount of great relievers they traded away.

    They also had Bruce Sutter but they got Leon Durham who was actually pretty good for the Cubs.

    • I was going to argue with you about Grich being better than Sandberg, but I compared them first.

      Sandberg was clearly the better base stealer and won more awards. Sandberg had a more reliable glove (.009 better than league average fielding percentage compared to Grich’s .005).

      But Grich had better range (.030 better RF/9 to Sandberg’s .021 comparing both to league averages; Grich’s 5.70 was much higher than Sandberg’s 5.31). He had 300 more walks and 100 more HBP. Grich had an OPS+ of 125 to Sandberg’s 114. He had more oWAR and dWAR (59.5/12.8 to 62.2/16.2).

      Sandberg was Jim Rice, whose home field improved his stats a ton: 853 to 738 OPS. Grich got marginal help at best from his home ballparks (.796 to .793) which was much less than league average; even in neutral parks, home players tend to have a bigger advantage than that.

      Sandberg is in the HOF, and deserves to be. Grich? Crickets. It once again shows the value of playing in one of the three major media markets, and WGN certainly helped.

      • bpdelia says:

        Grich could have played on the championship teams in new York but took less money to play elsewhere. He definitely be remembered more if he had chosen new York in free agency

  19. […] One of my favorite baseball writers is blogging down his 100 best players in baseball history. This one’s for Lisa. […]

  20. Herb Smith says:

    Joe explained why Ryno was rated (properly) higher than Biggio, Larkin, and Alomar; at his best, he was a superior player.

    The Cubs have made a whole lot of terrible trades, no doubt. However, they seem to do well when trading with the Phillies; as Joe noted, the Sandberg throw-in trade was a heist. And they did even better in 1967, getting a young Fergie Jenkins for almost nothing.

    Besides Mr. Cub, Jenkins is likely going to be the only other Cub who’ll make Joe’s list from here on in, so I’m looking forward to his profile.

    • hewetson says:

      Have you forgotten Mr. Cub, ‘lets play two’, Ernie Banks?

    • johnq11 says:

      I didn’t say Biggio, Larkin and Alomar should be ranked higher than Sandberg. For what’s it worth they don’t belong in a top 100 player+pitcher+Negro League list either.

      Johnny Mize was a much better player than Sandberg. I don’t think Joe adjusted Mize’ career for the years he missed in WW2. Even without WW2 credit he was better than Sandberg.

      Ron Santo was a better player than Sandberg.

      Schilling is ranked too low even without post-season credit. Perry was much better than Sandberg so was Nolan Ryan.

      Robin Roberts was one of the top 25 pitchers in baseball history, he was much better player than Sandberg.

      Old Hoss Radburn was better than Sandberg.

      It looks like Joe is rating the pitchers too low and he’s probably going to omit 20 pitchers that probably belong in a top 100 list.

      The Sandberg trade was an anomaly during that time period. It was based mostly on the fact that Dallas Green was the former manager of the Phillies so he knew their farm system.

      Yeah, you’re absolutely right about the Cubs trading with the Phillies, I hadn’t even realized that. You should also include the Grover Cleveland Alexander trade with the Phillies.

      Actually out of their 4 best trades, 3 were with the Phillies:

      Sammy Sosa

      As far as bad trades they mad a bunch of stinkers:

      Palmeiro and Moyer
      Bill Dahlen
      3 Finger Brown
      Dolph Camilli
      Lou Brock
      Smokey Burgess
      Eddie Stanky
      Oscar Gamble
      Joe Niekro
      Augie Galen
      Jon Garland
      Larry Gura

      And then the ones I listed previously.

  21. Robert says:

    I remember when Sandburg first “retired” at a young age (35) which created the narrative at the time about how players were going to start retiring earlier because of the massive contracts they were getting. Of course, players are lasting as long (if not longer) then before.

    Anyone else recall this?

  22. Wilbur says:

    Or Gabby Hartnett? Or Miner Brown?

  23. David Hallerman says:

    “Mark Grace could hit and he won some Gold Gloves but first basemen without home run power can test even the strongest fan’s patience.”

    Don’t know about that. I’m a lifelong Mets fan — at least since 1962 — and Keith Hernandez was a joy to watch and never tried my patience.

    In fact, his career and Grace’s are quite comparable.

    Grace slash line (9290 plate appearances) = .303/.383/.442
    Hernandez slash line (8553 plate appearances) = .296/.384/.436

    Grace HRs = 173 (one HR for each 53.7 PAs)
    Hernandez HRs = 162 (one HR for each 52.8 PAs)

    Of course, Keith had 11 Gold Gloves to Grace’s 4.

    And I s’pose that supreme elegance at first base — I’d argue Hernandez was the best fielding first baseman ever — made up for the lack of power.

    • jpdg says:

      As a long time Mets fan I, I see Grace as a poor man’s version of Hernandez, who was a much better player at his best and during his peak. Their offensive lines But yeah, Hernandez was a joy to watch and is royalty for life here in NY.

      • Grace & Hernandez says:

        There was kind of a stupid narrative in the Chicago media of “How long can the Cubs afford to carry Grace’s bat at first base?” back when he was one of their only consistent offensive threats. Totally idiotic. Had he played 10+ years later, his OBP would have earned him a lot more respect.

        The Hernandez comparison is apt. Similar offensive and defensive players. Mex was better at his peak and played in a less run-conducive environment. Gracie was more durable and probably deserves a bit of a positive asterisk for playing substance-free (if you don’t count Winstons and alcohol) in an era when a large percentage of stars were ‘roided to the gills.

        Both were outstanding and fun to watch, with a nod to Hernandez as being better. And I say that as a Cubs fan.

  24. John Gale says:

    “Well, maybe it does make sense. Maybe a team that sees Ivan de Jesus as a young shortstop would see Sandberg as a utility infielder. The Phillies would soon go through a stretch of 12 losing seasons in 13 years.”

    Ok, this made me laugh out loud.

  25. Ross says:

    Well numbers aren’t everything but…

    Sandberg (16 seasons): 2164 G, .285/.344/.452, 114 OPS+, 282 HR, 344 SB (76.2% success rate), 67.6 bWAR, 59.5 oWAR, 12.8 dWAR

    Utley (11 seasons): 1323 G, .287/.373/.498, 126 OPS+, 217 HR, 129 SB (88.4% success rate), 58.2 bWAR, 48.6 oWAR, 17.0 dWAR

    Best 5-year peak:

    Sandberg (1988-92): .291/.357/.494, 133 OPS+, 141 HR, 21 SB (75% success), 32.6 bWAR

    Utley (2005-09): .301/.388/.535, 135 OPS+, 146 HR, 77 SB (88.5% success), 39.5 bWAR

    Similar to the comparisons between Larkin and some of his contemporaries, Utley has had trouble staying healthy, especially in recent years. When he’s playing he’s been a superior player to Sandberg, however, in many ways highly superior. With only having played 61% as many games as Sandberg, he’s already at 86% of Ryno’s career WAR.

    Over the past 4 years, Utley has averaged just 108 games but has still racked up 16.1 WAR over that stretch (and a 119 OPS+). If he stays reasonably healthy and plays just 3-4 more years, this won’t even be an argument by the time all is said and done.

  26. Herb Smith says:

    There is no doubt that Utley is a great player. However, “having trouble staying healthy” is as negative a trait as “can’t hit the curve.” Leo Durocher often said that Pete Reiser was the greatest pure talent of all-time; numerous other baseball lifers have said similar things about Pistol Pete. But if you keep crashing into walls, leaning into fastballs, and throwing your body around too recklessly, there comes a point where you simply won’t have enough value to be in any “greatest player” debate.

    Poz hit the nail on the head in his recent profile of Alomar, when he said: “…And one of the most underrated talents in baseball, and probably in life, is showing up.”

  27. Clayton says:


  28. Ben says:

    “Closest thing the Cubs have had the last 40 or so years to a savior, a liberator, the kind of player who could actually break the spell and lead the Cubs across the desert and into the World Series”

    Diehard Cub fan of 35-40 years talking here. Love Sandberg, but the quote above describes Maddux, not Ryno.

  29. Wilbur says:

    Well, Mr. Dingus, if you knew anything about the rivalry you would know that it doesn’t come from either city. Rather, it comes from the geographic stretch between the two cities. In central and southern Illinois the fandom is generally split 50/50, and it’s a rabid rivalry passed down through generations, like college football.

  30. Next year the Cubs will celebrate Wrigley’s 100th birthday. The last time the Cubbies won the Series was in 1908, so they have never won in Wrigley.

    Dare I say that maybe is Wrigley what’s cursed?

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