Sandberg shares memories of Wrigley Field, Cubs
With ballpark entering 100th season, Hall of Famer reflects on early days of career
This is the third in a series on memorable moments at Wrigley Field, in honor of its 100th season. MLB.com reporters asked players, coaches and managers for their favorite memory of the ballpark. Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Cubs and the current Phillies manager, shared a few stories.
When Sandberg and Larry Bowa were teammates on the Cubs, Bowa had Sandberg handle all the popups hit between them. The reason was that the wind and sun at Wrigley Field made it tough on infielders, and Bowa -- who is now Sandberg's bench coach in Philadelphia -- decided to use his seniority and let the young second baseman chase after the balls. So when Sandberg and Shawon Dunston were together in the Cubs' infield, Sandberg passed off the popups to the young shortstop for the same reason.
Sandberg was originally selected by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 1978 First-Year Player Draft, and he was then traded to the Cubs after the '81 season. He called Wrigley Field his home for 15 years, was a 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
"In 1981 as a Phillie, I got my first hit there -- my first Major League hit was at Wrigley Field," Sandberg said. "I started the second game of a doubleheader in 1981 and played shortstop, and [I] had a couple of plays out there and I got my first hit off of Mike Krukow.
"When I found out I was starting, I knew that my bats hadn't arrived yet from my order, so I didn't have any bats. I was using a Marty Bystrom bat in batting practice and choking up on it a little bit. It was a big ole bat to bunt with -- a pitcher's bat -- so I was choking up and taking [batting practice] with that. I asked Larry Bowa if he had any extra bats I could use in the game, so he loaned me a bat and I got my first hit with a Larry Bowa bat. Even today, I still have the bat and the ball. It was a flare to right field slightly off the end of the bat, and the Rawlings writing on the ball came off on the bat. So I have the ball and the bat, and there's no writing on the ball. It's all on the bat.
"The bat was like a bottle bat with no knob. It was totally not my bat. But it was a bat.
"[That first game was special], being on the field with Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose, Manny Trillo -- basically an All-Star team, an All-Star at every position. Steve Carlton on the bench. Tug McGraw. [I remember] being in awe. I was in awe. Oh, yeah. I was 21 [years old] in Triple-A -- I think I was still 21 -- so just being in awe of all of that, having a start. And it was funny at the time, it was late September and the Cubs were out of it.
"I think the Phils had already clinched the first half of the season [in the strike year], and now they're playing to be prepared for the postseason. So those games -- I bet there were 10,000 to 12,000 people there. The ballpark, of course, was small. I said, 'Wow, this is a Major League ballpark?' And that was also my first thought when I was traded over there: 'Oh, you gotta be kidding me, not there -- there's 10,000 people there.' That all changed pretty much in '84, which was three years into my career.
"I guess I was no threat to take [Bowa's] job. I guess that's the way he looked at it [and why he loaned him a bat]. 'What else can I do for the guy?' Then we both go to Chicago, he takes me under his wing and teaches me everything about the game. Having lunch with him every day pregame, talking about the pitcher that day, talking about at-bats the day before -- for the four years that I was with him, I really learned a lot about the game. Just being with him and spending the time after the game having a beer and going to pregame lunch talking about the game [was special]. How to play catch right. Working hand in hand pregame at shortstop, double-play combinations, all that. That went a long way."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Todd Zolecki contributed to this report. Muskat writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.