In Courtroom 401 of the Southeast Regional Public Service Facility in Mesa, Ariz., one of the best second basemen ever to play baseball stands before a Superior Court judge, wearing chino slacks and a button-down tattersall shirt so new that the telltale creases have yet to meet the heat of an iron. Ryne Sand-berg, 36, appears boyish, especially so when his bride of six months, Margaret, keeps fussing with the buttons on his two shirt pockets.
To their left, Ryne's former wife, Cindy, rocks in a chair with her legs crossed beneath the skirt of her blue suit. She smiles smugly as she looks over at both of them. Not once in what will be a 70-minute hearing does Ryne or Margaret look at Cindy.
Ryne is in court on Feb. 28 having left a Chicago Cubs' spring training workout under the cover of a lie from his team. ("I sent him home," says manager Jim Riggleman, as a reward for "working hard.") Sandberg is asking that his two children, Lindsey, 13, and Justin, 11, spend nearly one half of the upcoming baseball season with him, including accompanying him to some road games. Cindy says if Ryne wants to see his children, he can fly home to Phoenix on off days.
Ryne's presence in court suggests what he later confesses: His reasons for quitting and returning to baseball are intensely more personal and complicated than he had admitted previously.
Cindy's attorney, John Rasmussen, asks Ryne what his 1996 salary will be. "I don't even have that information," Ryne says.
Rasmussen asks Ryne whether he would receive $1 million in a series of bonuses if he played 150 games. "I'd like to play 162 games," he says, "but I haven't studied [the bonus provisions of the contract]."
Later the judge, Michael McVey, asks Cindy when the school year ends for the two children. "I did not bring my schedule with me," she says.
Suddenly, Ryne pipes up. "May 24!" he says. Sandberg, a 10-time All-Star, the surest-handed player ever at his position and the only man with seasons of 40 home runs and 50 stolen bases, cannot recall the particulars of his contract. But he knows exactly when school ends for his children.
On the morning of June 11, 1994, Ryne woke up and decided to quit baseball. He told his manager, Tom Trebelhorn, before he told Cindy. At a press conference two days later he explained that he had lost his zest for the game and was returning to a happy family life in Phoenix. In a subsequent 1995 autobiography, Second to Home, he also said he was fed up with the chaos of the Cubs, most of which he blamed on then-general manager Larry Himes.
Sandberg wrote, "I quit because I didn't like my job anymore.... The truth is my personal situation had nothing to do with why I announced my retirement from baseball." He wrote "everything was fine" with his marriage at the time he retired. However, court documents and interviews with Sandberg and people familiar with his decision show that Ryne, miserable and lonely away from his family, suspected that his marriage to Cindy was careering toward divorce and, largely because of his intense love for his children, opted to walk away from baseball and the nearly $16 million left on his contract.