One-time throw-in becomes Hall of Famer
Ryne Sandberg had a dream. He'd pull on the red-and-white of the Philadelphia Phillies, trot out to shortstop and ... It didn't happen. Sandberg, one of the most celebrated "throw-ins" of all time, was dealt by the Phillies to the Chicago Cubs in 1982 and his dream was shattered.
Sunday, Sandberg and Wade Boggs will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.
"When I was at Double-A Reading, the bus would often go by Veterans Stadium on the way to our road games. I'd look out the window, and there was the Vet," Sandberg says. "That was a goal of mine - to play at Veterans Stadium."
Sandberg knew all about the World Series champions of 1980. Larry Bowa was the shortstop, Manny Trillo at second base and the greatest third baseman ever, Mike Schmidt. And don't forget Garry Maddox in center field.
Replacing any of those All-Stars was virtually impossible. So after the 1981 season, Sandberg reduced his goal. "I hoped to break in as a utility infielder," he says.
Dallas Green, the tough, demanding manager who produced the only World Series championship in Phillies franchise history, had other ideas.
Green brings him along
Green, who as farm director was instrumental in choosing Sandberg in the 20th round of the 1978 draft, had followed the youngster from Spokane, Wash., every step of the way through minors.
After the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Cubs searched for someone to lead them out of the depths of National League despair. Green left the Phillies and became Chicago's vice president and general manager.
In Philadelphia that offseason, the franchise was sold to a group headed by Bill Giles, son of former NL President Warren Giles. Almost from the moment Giles took over, he and the fiery Bowa feuded.
"It was well-documented that Bowa probably wasn't going to be around," Green says. "I knew the other part of the puzzle was that I had the only shortstop (Ivan DeJesus) who could play on a championship team. That's really what Pope (late Phillies GM Paul Owens) wanted."
Bowa for DeJesus happened Jan. 27, 1982. Sandberg was the "throw-in" to complete the deal.
"Pope desperately, or thought he did, needed DeJesus," says Green, who's now an adviser to Phillies GM Ed Wade. "I wasn't going to settle for anyone but Sandberg. We knew they had no place to play him, so we hung on. The Pope finally gave in."
Sandberg was in Venezuela playing winter ball and learning other positions, hoping to increase his value as a utility infielder. "I was very surprised by the deal - three shortstops were involved," he says. "It was my goal to someday take over for Larry Bowa at shortstop. I wasn't too happy.
"As I got back from playing winter ball that year, I looked at the situation and had second thoughts. I knew Dallas Green was general manager of the Cubs, and they were going to be a rebuilding team. I looked at this as a good situation for me."
Sandberg had an outstanding spring, playing shortstop, second base and some center field.
"My offense was so good it actually got to a point where they had to find a spot for me," he says. "I ended up breaking camp as the opening-day third baseman."
Green says he encouraged manager Lee Elia, also from the Phillies, to play Sandberg at third.
"We had Bowa at shortstop and had just drafted Shawon Dunston, also a shortstop," Green says. "We didn't have a third baseman. I told them to play him around. We didn't know what position he'd settle in, but I really wanted to see him at third base to see how he handled it. He took to it like a glove."
Sandberg played third in 1982 but moved to second in '83 and by '84 was a fixture there. In fact, as the Cubs won the NL East title, "Ryno" was the league MVP, batting .314 with 19 homers and 84 RBI. He made six errors en route to his second of nine consecutive Gold Gloves.
And from there, Sandberg was on his way to the Hall of Fame, a destination I believe he wouldn't have reached if he'd remained with the Phillies.
"I don't know how it would have turned out," Sandberg says. "If I had remained with the Phillies, I don't think I would have gotten 635 at-bats in 1982. Don't know if I would have been MVP in '84. Those are all the things I've thought about."
Indebted to Phillies
Sandberg says he owes much of his success to his Phillies upbringing, especially Green and his first manager at Helena, Larry Rojas. "They instilled in me how to do things the right way, having good fundamentals, having good work habits - and even how to put on my socks."
For that, he adds, he's forever indebted.
"As it turns out, my goal and that dream (to play at Veterans Stadium) did come true, but I was in a different uniform. I remember the first time I played there with the Cubs. It was an eerie feeling. I looked around, saying, 'This is Veterans Stadium, where I wanted to play and I'm here - as a Chicago Cub.' "
And now a Hall of Famer.