SI Vault
Edited by Jack McCallum and Richard O'Brien
June 20, 1994
Listening to Alberto
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June 20, 1994


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Then, too, Sandberg was not happy in the clubhouse. He was upset that over the last few seasons, Chicago had let go of, among others, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux and one of his closest friends, Rick Sutcliffe. He did not have many pals left on the club, and he saw no prospect for Chicago's improving between now and the end of the 1996 season, when his contract was to expire. By quitting, Sandberg walked away from about $15 million—half of his $5.9 million salary for this year and the $11.8 million due him for the next two seasons. He and the Cubs were working out a personal-services contract that will pay Sandberg about $2 million and, quite possibly, keep him from repeating past criticisms he made about the franchise's lack of stability.

Sandberg's sudden departure should not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. He is one of the best second basemen ever—Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins are the only ones with a clear claim to being better. And defensively he was indisputably No. 1: His .990 fielding percentage ranks as the best in history at his position. Four times he went through a season without a throwing error, and he won nine straight Gold Gloves.

One night a number of years ago, when Sandberg was on top of his game, Kansas City Royal third baseman George Brett was asked if he wanted to go out after a game. "Nah," said Brett, who turned down precious few invitations to revel. "The Cubs are on TV, and I always watch Ryne Sandberg play."

Voice from the Past

Hearing Walter Byers criticize the NCAA for exploiting student-athletes and hiding behind a byzantine and outdated rule book, as he did at a recent banquet in Kansas City, is, to some, like hearing the chairman of MTV decry sex and violence in music videos. After all, it was under the iron hand of Byers, the NCAA's executive director from 1951 to '87, that the association grew into a multimillion-dollar institution whose tentacles reach into almost every aspect of American amateur sport. But Byers, 72, has issued such criticism before, even while sitting in the director's chair. In a 1984 interview with SI, Byers called for the establishment of an "open division" in college sports, in which schools with big-time athletic programs would pay their players and end what he called the charade of amateurism. However, he never advanced his pay-for-play proposal before his retirement. By then the Presidents Commission, organized in large part to ensure that one man would never again have the power Byers wielded, was on its way to becoming the guiding force of the NCAA.

At the banquet Byers called the Presidents Commission a reform movement with "far more form and very little movement." He described the "neoplantation mentality" on college campuses that rewards the "overseers and the supervisors." And this was Byers at his most pointed: "The coach owns the athlete's feet, the college owns the athlete's body, and the athlete's mind is supposed to comprehend a rule book that I challenge [the NCAA's chief of enforcement] Dave Berst, who's sitting down in this audience, to explain in rational terms to you inside of eight hours."

Byers was slightly disingenuous in his criticisms. The NCAA's look-into-every-nook-and-cranny mentality began under his administration. Then, too, many of the punishable offenses that plague college sports are the result of dishonesty by the student-athletes themselves—Florida State players didn't misinterpret a rule book when they accepted illegal gifts and cash payments. And it was the brilliant stewardship of Byers that turned the NCAA basketball tournament into college sports' biggest cash cow.

But even a decade ago Byers realized that things had gotten out of control. This not-so-gentle message from the man who used to be the most powerful voice in amateur athletics should not go unnoted.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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