Ryne Sandberg’s Phillies legacy takes a couple of turns. They drafted him, traded him minutes later for Ivan DeJesus, watched him develop from afar into the league’s premiere slugging second baseman, brought him back as a coach decades later, promoted him to manager, watched him try to manage the team without speaking to them, and accepted his abrupt and quite welcome resignation.
For a minute, it was hoped that perhaps Sandberg would turn out to be so brilliant a manager that the Phillies having him for that chapter of his career would somehow make up for missing out on the part of it in which he was a ten-time all-star, 11-time Gold Glover, eight-time Silver Slugger, and National League MVP. That minute passed very quickly, and all we are left with is regret that the infamous Ryne Sandberg trade occurred on this very day, 37 years ago.
So what we’re going to do is throw out Sandberg’s numbers from his ten straight all-star seasons with the Cubs from 1984 to 1993 and compare them to whatever slappies were manning the hole between first and second for the Phillies.
Why are we doing this? Have you seriously not learned to stop asking questions like this? Here we go.
Sandberg: .314/.367/.520, 114 R, 19 3B, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, NL MVP in 156 G
Juan Samuel: .272/.307/.442, 19 3B, 72 SB, 36 2B in 160 G
As you can see, trading Sandberg didn’t hurt the output of triples the Phillies got from their starting second baseman in 1984. So, already this isn’t as bad as you thought. Plus, 1984 was pretty amazing for Samuel, setting a rookie record for stolen bases and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting (The Sporting News said he was #1).
Sandberg had his “Ryne Sandberg Game,” sure; just because he hit a couple of late-inning dingers. Did you know somebody else in that game hit for the cycle? That’s way harder, and they don’t call it the “Willie McGee Game.” Meanwhile, Dallas Green’s Cubs finished 15.5 games ahead of the Phillies in the standings, and for what? To lose to the Padres in the NLCS? Please. This trade was such a win for the Phillies. Next.
Sandberg: .305/.364/.504, 54 SB, 6 2B, 26 HR, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger
Juan Samuel: .264/.303/.436, 53 SB, 13 3B, 19 HR
Yes, we can all see that Sandberg, in a clear taunting gesture, finished one stolen base ahead of Samuel this year, the one area in which Samuel had statistically smashed him the season before.
Sure, you could use “statistics” and “outcomes” to measure the 1985 seasons of Sandberg and Samuel, second basemen separated by 750 miles of highway, but why not use a far more arbitrary barometer: Their Topps baseball cards from that season?
Look at Samuel, cheesing like a madman, celebrating his position, his status, his team. It was a fifth place finish for the Phils that year, but nothing got Samuel’s infectious grin going like tossing the old leather and seams around the infield.
And then there’s Sandberg: Confused. Unnerved. Upset. Unsure of either what he was doing on the field, or what a camera was. Perhaps he caught site of a pair of birds mating in the Wrigley vines, and at the moment this picture was snapped, one of them looked up and made deep, connective eye contact with him.
Sandberg: .284/.330/.411, 16 HR, 59 BB, 34 SB Gold Glove in 156 G
Juan Samuel: .266/.302/.448, 12 3B, 16 HR, 42 SB in 145 G
In ‘86, the Phillies were all about speed, putting Gary Redus, Milt Thompson, and Samuel at the top of their lineup. Sandberg was all about dropping his BA 21 points and never hitting even close to as many triples as he did in 1984 ever again.
This was the season after which one scribe at the L.A. Times decided to come down not on Sandberg, but on Chicago as a city.
Something about Chicago brings out the worst in our language. What else could explain the constant mispronunciations, misspellings and general abuse of the people, places and things associated with Chicago athletics?
Ryne Sandberg. This should be a breeze. But, nooooo . People like to add extra syllables to this Chicago Cub’s name. It isn’t Ry-an Sandberg. It’s Ryne, like Watch on the Rhine.
People didn’t seem to take issue with Samuel, or the way Philadelphians pronounced his name in 1986. We’re left to assume that this writer, and others like them, felt that Philadelphia brings out the best in our language. Another perfectly presented argument, thank you.
Sandberg: .294/.367/.442, 16 HR, 59 RBI, Gold Glove in 132 G
Juan Samuel: .272/.335/.502, 15 3B, 28 HR, Silver Slugger, in 160 G
This is probably the closest single-season match-up the Phillies had to Sandberg in this era: Samuel’s triple total once more led the league, and the all-star was awarded the Silver Slugger that had so often belonged to Sandberg, as well as a couple of MVP votes for the second time in his career.
The Phillies and Cubs met this season for a game on August 12. By then, Sandberg was hitting .309 with an .860 OPS, and he played in all 31 innings of this three-game series (one of the games went to 13), and got swept with the rest of the Cubs. But wouldn’t you know it, Samuel lit The Vet up in game three by leading off the game with a triple. By doing so, he became the first player—ever—to have double digit totals in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases within the first four years of his career. Three nights later, Sandberg would go a useless 0-for-4 at the plate during a loss to the Mets in which the Cubs let them score 23 runs.
This season would also see Samuel’s streak of leading the league in strikeouts come to an end, which had lasted from 1984-87. Sandberg never came close to leading the league in anything for four years. And Samuel, who came to the Phillies from the Dominican Republic, had a reason for swinging at everything, as Gary Matthews quoted in his book, “Few and Chosen Phillies: Defining Phillies Greatness Across the Eras:”
“You don’t walk off the island. You hit your way off.”
Sandberg: .264/.322/.419, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 25 SB in 155 G
Juan Samuel: .243/.298/.380, 12 HR, 67 RBI, 33 SB in 157 G
This is Samuel’s last time appearing on this list, but he shares more than the 1984 NL league lead in triples with Ryne Sandberg: Both men returned to the Phillies as coaches later in their careers. The only difference is, people like talking about Samuel’s tenure here.
Perhaps Sandberg’s numbers saw a dip in ‘88 because he was too busy making Chevy commercials, saying his strategy was to “not be a hot dog on the field,” a plan that we can quite literally say he executed to perfection throughout his entire career: Ryne Sandberg is not a hot dog.
Sandberg: .290/.356/.497, 104 R, 30 HR, 76 RBI in 157 G
Tom Herr: .287/.352/.364, 65 R, 2 HR, 37 RBI in 151 G
Herr had been the perfect second baseman to slot behind Kirby Puckett and other potent hitters in the Minnesota lineup, so they’d traded to acquire him from the Cardinals, and watched his bones turned to dust over the course of a disappointing, injury-tainted season.
Now, the 33-year-old was with the Phillies, and Sandberg, setting the league on fire with a combination of elite, instinctive defense, and alarming, powerful offense, still was not. But Herr refused to die, not that he had been in real danger of that anyway. As fate would have it, the Phillies and Cubs met up for the opening series of the season, and our boys took two out of three from Sandberg’s Cubs, walloping them 12-4 in game two and coming back the next day to finish them off in an 8-3 victory. The efficient, industrious Herr had six hits in those three games, including a 3-for-5 day with a walk in game three—a day that Sandberg went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. By the end of April, Herr was hitting a nifty .355, while Sandberg was swatting .272. How did the rest of that season go? Ha ha; that’s a story for another time, largely because it indicates how deeply flawed my overall point is.
Besides, Herr wasn’t the problem. In 1989, the Phillies’ pitching staff was the real danger. “Maybe we should just close this season and come back next spring,” rookie manager Nick Leyva said to the press on April 7 with a sarcastic wink and nudge. Then they lost 95 games.
Sandberg: .306/.354/.559, 116 R, 40 HR, 344 TB, 100 RBI in 155 G
Tom Herr: .261/.324/.347, 26 2B, 50 BB in 119 G
Mickey Morandini: .241/.294/.329, 1 HR, 3 SB in 25 G
Sandberg used his 30th year on earth to become the first second baseman to hit 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons. His counterpart in Philadelphia, Herr, had a combined six home runs between the two seasons. Herr only actually appeared in 119 games for the Phllies in 1990, with upstart Morandini appearing in 25 as a September call-up, and Randy Ready, and maybe, like, Steve Jeltz filling in the rest of the time. It was second base at one of its most fluid points of this period, so it’s not really fair to judge the Phillies situation at that position specifically to one of the best to ever play the game.
Once again, the Phillies and Cubs squared off to start the season, including a doubleheader on April 12. Sandberg made a power play by appearing in both games while Herr took a breather in the night game, giving Randy Ready his first start of the season. Were people “Ready” to see the Phillies utility infielder appear in 101 games and bat .244? No, they were not. Meanwhile, Herr finished his second consecutive April hitting over .300, then sank into the .260s where he lived for most of his career at this point. Sandberg went ham and tried to devour the entire National League. It was pretty unbecoming, honestly.
Sandberg: .291/.379/.485, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, 26 HR, 100 RBI in 158 G
Mickey Morandini: .249/.313/.317, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 13 SB in 98 G
Randy Ready: .249/.385/.322, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB in 76 G
Sandberg wasn’t looking especially hot coming into 1991, especially when he went 0-for-14 in a series against the Phillies at Wrigley Field in mid-April. The next time they met wasn’t much better, when he manged to summon a pair of hits in three games at The Vet, and by early August, when the teams met again in Philadelphia, yes, he managed to get a hold of one off Terry Mulholland, but that didn’t stop Wes Chamberlain from walking the Phillies off later. And it certainly didn’t show Sandberg was ripping the cover off the ball even though, yeah, you know, he was slugging over .500 at the time.
There was a fun kerfuffle come August, when Sandberg hit a home run and a double against the Phillies in an eventual 7-6 win for the Cubs, the victory rally pretty much being started when Phillies reliever Mike Hartley threw a fast one up and in on Sandberg, who snarled toothily on his way to first base. Morandini but together a productive May at the plate, but it was becoming obvious his forte was darting around the infield, making defensive stops. It’s, uh; sort of weird how much he and Ready’s numbers mirrored themselves. Morandini did, however, show some smarts in stealing bases, something he brought with him when he, too, returned to the Phillies as a coach and started working with the not super quick Phillies teams of the last few years on using instincts to make their decisions, not strict timing measurements.
Where was Sandberg at that point? That’s right, enjoying his cushy, non-specific job in the Cubs front office.
Sandberg: .304/.371/.510, Silver Slugger, 26 HR, 87 RBI in 158 G
Mickey Morandini: .265/.305/.344, 3 HR, 8 SB in 127 G
While, yes, Sandberg became the player making the most amount of money in baseball after signing a $7.1 million a year contract for four years, Morandini records the most outs on a single play by performing an unassisted triple play. Which one had more impact on the game? That’s right, Morandini, who got the Phillies out of an early jam against the Pirates. Then they lost.
Sandberg: .309/.359/.412, 9 HR, 45 RBI in 117 G
Mickey Morandini: .247/.309/.355, 3 HR, 13 SB in 120 G
Morandini was part of one of Jim Fregosi’s many platooned positions in 1993, as Mariano Duncan was dropped strategically around the infield, appearing in 65 games at second base. Which again, makes this something of an unfair comparison... for Sandberg. Turns out a team with four positions filled by committee could go all the way to the World Series, and a team with Sandberg on it could go to fourth place before he quit the sport entirely.
And that was it for Ryno. Well, not really. But he did do that thing where he quit suddenly, letting down everyone who had been relying on him, and he did it on June 13, 1994, in the middle of the season, giving up $16 million:
“I am certainly not the type of person who can ask the Cubs organization and the Chicago Cubs fans to pay my salary when I am not happy with my mental approach and my performance.”
He returned in 1996, retired again after 1997, and took with him records that have since been broken: Most Gold Gloves by a second baseman with nine (Roberto Alomar surpassed him) and most home runs by a second baseman with 282 (Jeff Kent took that one). But still, the moment served as a precursor to him doing the same thing to the Phillies as their manager on June 26, 2015. Something about the month of June really made old Ryno want to quit things immediately.