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Ryno Could Have Been So Much More

Tue., Aug. 5, 1997, midnight

The nickname never quite fit the man.

Ryno. Sounds like some armor plated lug, a debt collector or a bodyguard. Not a Cub name, really, where the vivid ones, the Hall of Famers, tend to the diminutive - Ernie, Billy, Fergie.

Sandberg fits fine. Near-poetic. He-man poetic, and he could be that on the field, flawless with the glove, rugged with the bat, as internal as an ulcer, as remote as a monk.

He deserves a farewell tour, such as it will be for the Cubs, more pallbearer than guest of honor, a condition no more unusual at the end of Sandberg’s time than during the rest of it.

Sandberg gave his career and his talent to a loser, did what he could on the field but probably did not do enough off the field to make it any different, so he also deserves whatever he got.

He kept his resentments and his suggestions to himself, fled the field when things were the worst, gave the money back. That can be said for him, but he had a lot of money left over.

Sandberg was the Cub of a generation, the center of the scarce glory of the ‘80s, and the hope for the wretched ‘90s, the clear and constant bit of substance among the whims and notions of assorted false starts and portable leadership.

It is time. It was time the first time. Ryno, the Sequel, was an indulgence. By the Cubs. By himself. Someone should have talked him out of coming back instead of back into Wrigley Field.

By returning to the Cubs he blurred his own career credentials and delayed the retooling of a team that needed to find the next Sandberg, not the last one.

This time it does not matter. Whether Sandberg is at second base for the Cubs or loitering in the player’s lounge, it is all the same.

This is a more miserable bunch of Cubs with worse expectations than the one he left before, but Sandberg will ride it out and take his bows anywhere anyone bothers to notice. It is a harmless consideration.

Fortunately for Sandberg, the Cubs are the Cubs, not only familiarly out of contention, but able to humor the best of their own.

A dozen of the remaining games are against Florida, a team that did not exist when Sandberg was who he will be remembered as, or American League teams he has never faced.

What memories there are to be gathered or well wishes to be sent await in San Diego, surely, where the Cubs should have won in ‘84, in San Francisco, a shame in ‘89, in St. Louis for the very last game, the team against whom Sandberg had his greatest day, the extra inning magic act that had Whitey Herzog calling Sandberg “Baby Ruth.”

From now to then, Sandberg’s epilogue will be as quiet as was all that preceded it.

It is too late for Sandberg to be the team leader he should have been, not by mute example but by loud leverage; too late to demand that Greg Maddux be paid or Jim Lefebvre be retained or Larry Himes not be taken so seriously.

When Sandberg had the majesty to do it, he couldn’t be bothered. Now the best he can expect is to have someone hold the door as he leaves.

The issue of whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame will take care of itself. If Joe Morgan belongs in the Hall certainly Sandberg does, though Morgan benefited from not just his own success but his association with a great team.

Had Morgan remained in Houston instead of joining the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, he would still be on the ballot.

If Sandberg had played any other position but second base, he would be considered much less remarkable.

Sandberg will get my vote. He will need it. Four or five times, tops.

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