CHICAGO – It would be a fitting day for Cubs’ fans should Major League Baseball finally get their schedule for the 2020 season set in stone.
Even if they don’t, though as of Tuesday night it’s very close, the day is still a special one for fans on the north side.
Thirty-six years later, “The Sandberg Game” still lives in Cubs’ lore.
It was on July 23, 1984 that Ryne Sandberg made himself a household name with Cubs’ fans and a young player to watch all around baseball. It was also a moment that helped to kick an already promising season into high gear, as this group ended nearly 40 years of playoff frustration for the franchise.
During a nationally televised game with the rival Cardinals on a sun-splashed day at Wrigley Field, the teams put on an offensive display for the 38,079 fans. Down 9-8 to St. Louis in the ninth inning, the Cardinals sent Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to the mound.
Arguably the best closer in the game, the former Cub was on his way to a career-high 45 saves in 1984. But the fourth year second baseman for the Cubs had something for him on this afternoon.
With the Cubs down by one, Sandberg led off the inning by taking a Sutter pitch to the top row of the bleachers for the game-tying solo homer to force extra innings. This added to what at that point was already a productive day, with Sandberg collecting three hits and four RBI before the at-bat.
It still appeared like it wouldn’t be enough when the Cardinals’ Willie McGee doubled off Cubs’ closer Lee Smith to give St. Louis the lead. Another groundout RBI gave St. Louis an 11-9 lead, and NBC Sports anointed McGee the player of the game after his 6 RBI day.
But in the bottom of the tenth, Sandberg did it again, this time with two outs and Bob Dernier on first after a walk. The second baseman took this Sutter pitch into the left field bleachers again, this time for a two-run homer to tie it at 11.
A disgusted Sutter called for the ball in front of the mound as Sandberg rounded the bases with a delirious Wrigley Field crowd roaring. After coming back from deficits of 7-1 and 9-3, the Cubs were once again tied with the Cardinals.
Dave Owen would finally give the Cubs the win in the 11th inning with a single to bring in Leon Durham, but it was Sandberg that won the day.
Sandberg would go onto win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award for 1984, hitting .314 with 19 homers, 19 triples, and 84 RBI. He also won the Gold Glove at second base, making just six errors in 870 chances.
His efforts helped the Cubs to the 1984 NL East division title, which put the team in the playoffs for the first time since 1945. Despite Sandberg’s .368 average in the NLDS, the Cubs fell in five games to the Padres.
Sandberg would become the face of the Cubs’ franchise for the next decade, appearing in ten-consecutive All-Star Games while also winning nine Gold Gloves. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, but the road to that achievement really started on June 23, 1984.
“The Sandberg Game” lives on 36 years later as a moment in time for the franchise and one of their most iconic players of a generation.