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Second Time Around
Tom Verducci
March 11, 1996
Personal concerns drove Ryne Sandberg to quit. Now, with a new wife and a new outlook, he's back with the Cubs
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March 11, 1996

Second Time Around

Personal concerns drove Ryne Sandberg to quit. Now, with a new wife and a new outlook, he's back with the Cubs

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"Surprised maybe, but not shocked," he says. "If it's possible to turn green with envy, Ryno did that weekend. You could see it all over his face. And Margaret and the kids really got a kick out of being there. People would keep asking Ryno for an autograph, and she'd say, 'Can you believe this? They want his autograph. Isn't this great?' "

Previously Ryne had preferred to keep Justin and Lindsey away from the park, Cindy testified, so they would not grow up as "baseball brats." But now he had a plan: He would come back to play with his new wife and family cheering him on. He would rent an apartment 10 minutes from Wrigley Field with room for the gang. "I just want my kids to experience me enjoying baseball, so we're all going to do this together," Ryne says.

Cindy wanted to put a stop to this new parenting plan, preferring for the children to remain home, pursuing their regular activities, instead of following their father to ballparks. On Oct. 13—nearly three weeks before the Cubs announced Sandberg's return—she filed a request for mediation of "a controversy over custody and visitation" of the children. When Cindy and Ryne met on Nov. 14 with the mediator, social worker Robert L. Nunes, Ryne wound up walking out. Nunes triple-checked "Agreement Not Reached" on his report to McVey. "She was making threats about [my] not seeing the kids during the baseball season," Ryne testified last week in McVey's court. "That's when I got up and left."

Meanwhile, Ryne worked at getting his body ready to play baseball again. "When I told my kids I was coming back," he says, "Justin said, 'But Dad, you're out of shape.' He thought of me as an old-timer. Thing is, he was right. But then I started serious workouts and hit some home runs, and he knew it was right."

Remarkably, Sandberg has shown virtually no rust in the Cubs' camp. His bat speed, arm strength and fielding range still are impressive enough to suggest a successful comeback that is not without precedent. Other players who come back in their 30's after missing at least one season for reasons other than injury include: 34-year-old Jackie Jensen, who, following a year off because of a fear of flying, hit .263 in 1961; and 30-year-old Enos Slaughter (.300, 130 RBIs), 31-year-old Joe DiMaggio (.290, 25 home runs), 33-year-old Tommy Henrich (.251, 83 RBIs) and 33-year-old Johnny Mize (.337, 22 homers), all of whom excelled in 1946 after missing three seasons while serving in World War II. Sandberg remains as fundamentally perfect as any player today and has added a new element to his game: a smile.

"He has the luxury of walking away from the game and missing it, like we all did," Lynch says, "but then coming back. The second time around is a lot sweeter."

So optimistic is Ryne that when he went before McVey last week, he asked that the children be allowed to travel with him to Chicago for "big games, big weekends" at Wrigley Field in September, well after school is back in session. No matter how McVey ruled, he said he is committed to playing this season. "This is the way I look at it," says Ryne. "This is not something I'm going to do forever. I think I can play for three or four years, but I want to just see what happens this year. This is what I do. This makes me happy. And I want to share it with my kids."

The ruling is sealed, but according to Ryne, McVey decided on a compromise: Ryne gets to take the kids with him during the season but not as often as he wanted. "Oh, yeah, I'm happy with it," he said of the judge's decision. "They'll be with me Opening Day in Chicago. They'll be up for the weekend. They'll have to miss at least one day of school."

Last Friday, Margaret took all five kids out of school early to watch Ryne's first exhibition game in nearby Mesa. Ryne drew a walk and pulled two rockets: one was a line drive out and the other was a double off the wall. Ryne frequently laughed, smiled and waved to his new family in the stands behind the backstop. Margaret stood and hollered even when he fielded a routine grounder. "She's like that at Little League games," he says.

Ryne left the game after four innings. He showered, dressed and then stepped out of the clubhouse, saying with a laugh, "This ought to be fun." He walked through the stands, sat next to his wife, daughter and stepdaughter and settled in, intending to watch the rest of the game. Quickly, though, he was engulfed by autograph seekers, and he left.

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