Sandberg deserved better from voters

In his first year on the ballot, Ryne Sandberg fell far short of gaining entry into the Hall of Fame. That's a shame.

Originally Published: January 7, 2003
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Monday I wrote how torn I am each year when I don't vote for certain players on my Hall of Fame ballot. Today I'm writing how I'm disappointed that others didn't vote for Ryne Sandberg.

Sandberg received roughly half the votes cast (244), well shy of the 75 percent needed for his ticket to Cooperstown. That's too bad because he easily deserves the honor.

It's hard to remember in this era of inflated offense, when second baseman such as Jeff Kent, Bret Boone and Alfonso Soriano put up numbers once restricted to center fielders, but when Sandberg was in his prime, the question that players, fans, writers, and broadcasters occasionally asked was not whether he was the best second baseman in the game (he was, at least until Robbie Alomar took over that title) but the best in history (he wasn't, but he was among them).

He was briefly the highest-paid player in baseball history, and for good reason. For a long time, he was his league's best fielding second baseman and its best hitting second baseman. Jayson Stark pointed out in his column on Monday, from 1982-92, Sandberg led all second baseman in runs, RBI, home runs, batting average, OPS, fielding percentage and 500-assist seasons.

The 1984 NL MVP, Sandberg started 10 consecutive All-Star Games and won nine consecutive Gold Gloves. He hit 277 career home runs (most ever by a second baseman), averaged 24 during a nine-year stretch (when 24 still was a significant number) and led the league with 40 in 1990 (which shows you how much the game has changed). He hit .300 five times and scored 100 runs (a terribly unappreciated mark) seven times. He led the Cubs to their only two division titles.

I dislike making comparison to other players in Cooperstown because using the least talented Hall of Famers as a barometer often sets the bar so low that you can make a case for many undeserving candidates. But in Sandberg's case, it's worthwhile because he was so obviously as good as -- and usually significantly better than -- half the second basemen already in the Hall: Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, Billy Herman, Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri, Bid McPhee and Bill Mazeroski.

What hurt Sandberg is his abrupt retirement in 1994 and dubious return a few years later. That surely cost him more compelling totals and the memory of his final seasons probably cost him some votes.

That's too bad because what Sandberg did in the years prior to that first retirement earned him a ticket to Cooperstown.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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