I think the greatest baseball game I ever witnessed occurred
on June 23, 1984. The Chicago Cubs vs.
the St. Louis Cardinals at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. A game some refer to as “The Sandberg Game.” It’s the game that caused many baseball fans
to realize what most Chicagoans had known for awhile, that there was an amazing
ballplayer playing 2nd base on the North side of Chicago.
I wasn’t at the game.
I witnessed it as most did that Saturday, watching it on NBC’s game of
the week. I hated NBC’s game of the
week! They’re arrangement with Major
League Baseball was such that whatever game they were airing was the only ball
game you could watch on Saturday afternoons.
If it wasn’t the Cubs game (and it usually wasn’t), that meant the
festivities in Wrigleyville were blacked out.
And even if the Cubs were the game of the week, it just wasn’t the same
as watching it on Chicago’s Channel 9.
There would be none of the crowd shots that WGN was famous for, no
cutaways of Cubs ballgirl Marla Collins chasing fouls, and worst of all no
Harry Caray calling the game. Why NBC
wouldn’t even show him singing the 7th inning stretch. Why not just tear my heart out and feed it to
the peacock. Had I not been 13 years old
and dumb I might have come up with the solution of turning down the sound on
the TV and turning on WGN radio, but that was beyond me. Instead we had to settle for Bob Costas.
Actually, perhaps we need not settle for Bob Costas. My next door neighbor, a few years younger
than me, had rigged up a way to hook a microphone up to his family’s VCR
(Google it youngsters). He could record
a program off TV and use the mic to give it his own soundtrack. Suddenly an idea was hatched! We decided we would do our own play by play
for the game. If we couldn’t have Harry
Caray and Steve Stone, we would be Harry Caray and Steve Stone. We figured whatever the result it had to be
better than this Bob Costas guy.
Our brilliant plan to take our first steps toward receiving
the Ford C. Frick award in Cooperstown lasted into about the fifth inning when
my neighbor’s father tired of our in-depth analysis and pulled the plug. Mr. Costas had won that round.
Our attempt at providing the play by play was not the only
thing that hadn’t gone well that day. The
Cardinals managed to take a 7-1 lead by the time the Cubs came to bat in the
bottom of the 2nd. Not fun,
but we were Cubs fans, we were used to this sort of thing. But 1984 was different. The season was still young, but the Cubs had
shown promise. We knew they could do it! After 3 innings of goose eggs, the cubs at
last began to come back. By the end of
the 6th inning the Cardinals were up 9-8. Both teams remained scoreless until the
bottom of the 9th.
By this time, Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee had already
been named the game’s MVP by Mr. Costas and his NBC buddies. “How can he be the MVP!?! The game isn’t over yet!!” we shouted at Costas. Indeed it wasn’t. Cue Mr. Ryne Sandberg.
On the mound was future hall of famer, Grizzly Adams
impersonator and former Cub Bruce Sutter.
Sandberg, not known for power at this point, was the first Cub hitter
that inning and he promptly hit a solo home run to left field. Wrigley Field went nuts. We were 31 miles away in the suburban hamlet
of Wheaton, but we probably could’ve heard the crowd had we bothered to open
the window. The Cubs failed to put any
more runs on the board that inning, but the score was now tied. Time for extra innings.
The joy in Wrigleyville soon faded as the Cardinals returned
to the plate and managed to add two more runs, making the score 11-9 St.
Louis. Bruce Sutter returned to the
mound and promptly caused short stop Larry Bowa and pinch hitter Richie Hebner
to ground out. The Cubs were down to
their final out, but Sutter then walks Cubs leadoff man Bob Dernier. The stage is set for Sandberg once again.
The mind of a 13 year old Cub fan is eternally
optimistic. Deep in my heart I knew he
could do it again. And then…Boom, he did
it again! Another home run tied the game
The game wasn’t decided until the 11th inning. Cardinals pitcher Dave Rucker walked Cubs
first baseman Leon “Bull” Durham, who then stole 2nd and reached 3rd
on a bad throw by the catcher. Rucker
then intentionally walked Keith Moreland & Jody Davis to load the
bases. It was pinch hitter Dave Owen who
actually won the game for the Cubbies with a single that scored Durham, but
this will always be remembered as Sandberg’s game.
Beyond the fact that this was a Cubs victory over the
Cardinals (can’t get much better than that), this game is the greatest for me
because it is a perfect example of what I love about baseball…simply put: it
ain’t over till it’s over. That Costas
and crew prematurely picked Willie McGee as the game’s MVP just accentuates
that point all the more. It was a fun
game to watch and it was fun to relive it as wrote this. This game will live on in the hearts of many
Cubs fans for decades to come.