Ryne Sandberg reflects on Sammy Sosa’s 1998 show — and his own in 1990
Have fun going back 22 years, everybody. Before that, though, let’s go back 30, to when a pretty good Cubs hitter in his own right reached the height of his power with one of the greatest offensive seasons in team history.
OK, so I’m here at Olympic Stadium in London, and . . . hello?
Anybody seen the Cubs and Cardinals?
Where the heck is everyone?
I kid, of course, but this weekend was supposed to be a special one for the Cubs, Cardinals and all of baseball, with the National League Central rivals going nose-to-nose across the pond. Wouldn’t that have been wonderful?
Instead, baseball remains on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic and, I should add, a combination of oafish greed and bizarro-world self-awareness that has fueled pretty much the worst-timed management-labor dispute ever.
Long-gone season, meet ‘‘Long Gone Summer.’’
We might not have real baseball — oh, well — but we have ESPN’s documentary at 8 p.m. Sunday about Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the cartoonish, captivating, ever-so-juicy 1998 home-run race.
Enjoy reliving Big Mac’s 70 dingers and Slammin’ Sammy’s 66. Enjoy reconnecting with the feeling that some ballplayers simply are superheroes. Enjoy biceps gone wild, bleachers turned into mosh pits and baseballs that seemingly never come down out of the sky.
‘‘Yeah, I’m going to watch it,’’ Ryne Sandberg said. ‘‘Isn’t everybody?’’
‘‘The last month of that season, with the home-run race, I think everybody’s eyes were glued to the TV,’’ Sandberg, 60, recalled a couple of days ago as he plowed down the interstate toward Columbus, Ohio, to visit two of his nine grandchildren. ‘‘It was more McGwire against Sosa rather than the two teams in the standings. At the time, it was very impressive.’’
But how impressive, really?
Sandberg had played with Sosa and against McGwire just one year before, the Hall of Fame second baseman’s final season in the big leagues. Didn’t he realize the freak show he was watching wasn’t entirely wholesome and pure?
‘‘At the time, I wasn’t skeptical at all,’’ he said. ‘‘I had just retired from the game and had no inkling about any steroid use or abuse in baseball. I guess I was a little bit blind to the effect of how the ball was flying out of the ballpark.’’
A lot of people were blind. It’s a wonder anybody could get where they were going.
To ’98 it is, then. Have fun going back 22 years, everybody.
Before that, though, let’s go back 30. Let’s go back to 1990, when a pretty good Cubs hitter in his own right reached the height of his power — 40 home runs — and had, all told, one of the greatest offensive seasons in team history.
Sandberg led the NL that season in homers — becoming only the third big-league second baseman to reach 40 — and with 116 runs scored and 344 total bases. He batted .306 and drove in 100 runs, a remarkable total given that he was exclusively a No. 2 hitter that season.
Did I mention his major-league-record 123 consecutive games without an error? Or that he won the Home Run Derby that year at Wrigley Field, site of the All-Star Game?
Indeed, he did it all that season. No one in the game was better. Sandberg never had been better, nor would he ever be.
‘‘My confidence was at an all-time high in 1990,’’ he said. ‘‘I think, in all, I just did not miss my pitch all year. When I got the pitch I wanted and was ahead in the count, I just didn’t miss.’’
Alas, he did miss. On the heels of a division title in 1989, Sandberg and the Cubs missed the playoffs. He hadn’t seen that collapse coming.
But he still put on a show in ’90. And he did it, for those of you scoring at home, the right way.
‘‘I feel good about that,’’ he said.
He’ll watch the doc on that other guy, Sosa. He’ll try to enjoy it and not get caught up in the stuff that was dark and twisted in all clubhouses, managers’ offices, front offices — even the commissioner’s office — at the time.
Should Sosa be welcomed back by the Cubs after all these years?
‘‘It seems to me there are some bridges that were burned,’’ Sandberg said. ‘‘But it’s not really my call.’’
You know what’s unfair? That Sandberg’s best might be measured against Sosa’s. There’s nothing fair about that at all.
But on we go.