Cubs' Sandberg quits, citing drop in performance

June 14, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg seemed like an unlikely candidate for a case of career burnout, but yesterday he became the Second City's second sports icon to retire prematurely in the past year.

NBA megastar Michael Jordan shocked the sports world last fall when he walked away from the Chicago Bulls in the prime of his basketball career. He did it because he was coming off three straight world championships and had little left to achieve after establishing himself as the dominant player of his time.

Sandberg, at 34, is perhaps the best second baseman of his generation, but he chose to bring an end to his 13-year career for reasons that still are not entirely clear.

"I am not the type of person who can be satisfied with anything less than my very best effort and my very top performance," Sandberg said. "I am not the type of person who can leave my game at the ballpark and feel comfortable that my future is set regardless of my performance.

"And I am certainly not the type of person who can ask the Cubs organization and Chicago Cubs fans to pay my salary when I am not happy with my mental approach and my performance."

He obviously was frustrated with his slow start this season, and the recent 1-for-28 slump that persuaded manager Tom Trebelhorn to bench him over the week end. No doubt, he was equally discouraged by the performance of the Cubs, who have lost 11 of their past 12 games and fallen out of contention in the National League Central.

"I want to be the best player that I can be, and with all these feelings and emotions not being there, I've found that I'm not able to do that," Sandberg said at an afternoon news conference at Wrigley Field.

The terms of his retirement have not been outlined, but it appears that Sandberg is walking away from the four-year, $28 million contract extension that he signed before the 1993 season. That contract made headlines everywhere because it made Sandberg baseball's first $7 million man, and it made headlines in Baltimore because it complicated attempts by the Orioles to re-sign shortstop Cal Ripken.

The reaction throughout baseball was predictable. Sandberg is a Hall of Fame-caliber player who was popular with his teammates and revered by opposing players.

Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen was shocked by the news.

"It surprised me a lot . . . to wake up and read in the papers that one of the best ballplayers in Chicago is quitting," Guillen said. "It's pretty rare that a guy wakes up and says I don't want to play anymore."

Damon Berryhill, Sandberg's ex-teammate who is now with the Boston Red Sox, said: "If he wasn't having fun, he did the right thing. The guy left a lot of money out there."

Sandberg, who has played in 10 straight All-Star Games, is second in balloting among NL second basemen this season, behind the Philadelphia Phillies' Mariano Duncan.

Sandberg overcame injuries last year to bat .309 -- the second-best average of his career -- but he was hitting .238 with five home runs and 24 RBIs this season. He said there was no physical reason he decided to quit in the middle of the season, leaving room to speculate that he had become fed up with the team's inability to keep other quality players -- such as Greg Maddux and Andre Dawson -- in Chicago.

"Physically, I feel pretty good, actually," he said. "But it takes more than physical ability to go out and play major-league baseball. And with the standards that I have for myself, it definitely takes more than that."

The prospects for postseason play dimmed quickly this year, but Sandberg took the Cubs to the playoffs twice. He was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1984, when the Cubs lost a heartbreaking five-game playoff series to the San Diego Padres, and he hit 30 homers to lead the club into the 1989 NL Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Still, his nine Gold Gloves and 245 career home runs were not enough to earn him or the club baseball's ultimate prize. The Cubs last went to the World Series in 1945.

Sandberg said that he had decided before the season to retire at the end of 1994, but moved up the timetable because of his flagging statistics and his waning desire to play.

SANDBERG'S STATS

Year ..... Team ..... H .. HR .. RBI .. Avg

1981 .... Phillies .. 1 ... 0 .... 0 .. .167

1982 ..... Cubs ... 172 ... 7 ... 54 .. .271

1983 ..... Cubs ... 165 ... 8 ... 48 .. .261

1984 ..... Cubs ... 200 .. 19 ... 84 .. .314

1985 ..... Cubs ... 186 .. 26 ... 83 .. .305

1986 ..... Cubs ... 178 .. 14 ... 76 .. .284

1987 ..... Cubs ... 154 .. 16 ... 59 .. .294

1988 ..... Cubs ... 163 .. 19 ... 69 .. .264

1989 ..... Cubs ... 176 .. 30 ... 76 .. .290

1990 ..... Cubs ... 188 .. 40 .. 100 .. .306

1991 ..... Cubs ... 170 .. 26 .. 100 .. .291

1992 ..... Cubs ... 186 .. 26 ... 87 .. .304

1993 ..... Cubs ... 141 ... 9 ... 45 .. .309

1994 ..... Cubs .... 53 ... 5 ... 24 .. .238

Tot. ..... .... .. 2133 ..245 .. 905 .. .289

PLAYOFFS

Year Opp ...... H .. HR.. RBI.. AVG

Padres ... 7 ... 0 ... 2.. .368

1989 Giants ... 8 ... 1 ... 4.. .400

Tot. ...... .. 15 ... 1 ... 6.. .385

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