It’s hard to believe that it has been 32 years since Ryne Sandberg literally burst onto the national map.
In the world I used to live in, “The Sandberg Game” – June 23, 1984 – was a glorified bullet point that appeared in a boatload of Cubs media guides during my time with the club:
Now I know what you’re thinking: How did I not receive a Pulitzer Prize for that bit of bulleted prose?
The more important question: What kind of view did I have on this historical day?
Nope, not a press box moment. I was still in my formative years.
I remember sitting on my parents’ den sofa on June 23, 1984 … home from school after a less-than-stellar freshman campaign academically … NBC broadcasting the Saturday afternoon game, with Bob Costas and Tony Kubek calling the action … sticking with the game despite a Cardinals six-run 2nd inning – since Ralph Citarella was St. Louis’ starting pitcher (yes, THE Ralph Citarella; I figured a comeback was possible).
Back in my pre-work days, I spent as many afternoons in the Wrigley Field seats as I could.
I was smart enough to go to the June 22 game. One of my all-time favorite Cubs pitchers, Rick Reuschel, was on the mound that day – and he pitched into the 8th inning in a 9-3 victory.
I was smart enough to go to the June 24 game. The recently acquired Rick Sutcliffe was making his first Wrigley Field start as a member of the Cubs – and was brilliant in a complete-game 5-0 win, striking out 14 while allowing five meaningless singles.
But June 23, though, I was lucky enough to be a couch potato. Sure, I would have loved to have been there – hundreds of thousands will lie and tell you they were there for the histrionics – but it means I have a better Ryne Sandberg story to tell.
And I can’t make this up. Mr. Sandberg once used my name as an alias.
In 1994, for family reasons, Ryno shocked the baseball world with a June retirement.
Less than 18 months later, he re-shocked the world by un-retiring. I do apologize if “re-shocked” and “un-retiring” aren’t part of your normal dictionary.
It sounded like a Halloween prank, but it wasn’t. On October 31, 1995, the Cubs announced a major press conference was going to be held in a downtown Michigan Avenue hotel. In a pre-internet existence, talk radio was starting to rule the world – and word quickly spread that Sandberg had filed papers for reinstatement.
In the process of waiting for the reinstatement to become official, it was decided by Sandberg’s agent and handlers that the second baseman needed an alias in order to sneak into Chicago. And the name selected was … you guessed it … Chuck Wasserstrom.
Why me? The short answer is, why not?
Yes, they gave me a heads-up that they were using my name as Ryne’s alias.
And yes, I was smart enough to stop at the front desk … say I left my key in the room … show my photo ID to get another key … and politely barge into the room. Heck, the room was in my name; I wanted to see what I was missing. I must say … the view was great.
Looking back, I would love to have spent one game day as Ryne Sandberg – Hall of Fame player, 10-time All-Star, 1984 MVP, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, and the list goes on.
But it’s cool to know that – even for just one day – Ryne Sandberg got to be me. I hope I ordered nicely from room service.