The Sandberg Game

In the summer of 1984, I had just completed my first year of law school, and my life was at a bit of a crossroads. I loved studying the law, but I had no desire to be a practicing attorney. I was attending John Marshall Law School in Chicago (now the University of Illinois-Chicago Law School), and I didn’t want to return. Although I loved law school, I knew myself well enough to know that I did not have the disciple to live in Chicago—with all the distractions the city had to offer—and also successfully complete my legal education.

It was a Saturday in late June, and I needed a break from trying to figure out my life. I knew that seeing my parents could provide that distraction.

When I got there, my mom was not home. I should have known. Like every Saturday, she was at the grocery store. My dad was home, and as luck would have it, the Cubs were playing the Cardinals on NBC’s Game of the Week.

In those days, my dad and I had an uneasy relationship. I don’t think he knew what to make of me. Although he was  proud of me for attending law school, I think he saw me still in school at the age of 24 as a way to avoid working for a living. Dad hadn’t graduated from high school. In fact, he had only made it through the eighth grade, and he didn’t understand higher education.

Despite our differences, over the years, we had bonded over baseball. Even at times when we were barely speaking, we would often watch a Cubs game together on WGN-TV. It was our one common point of interest.

What we didn’t know on that June Saturday was that we were about to watch the greatest baseball game either of us had ever seen. The game—which came to be known as The Sandberg Game—featured the Cardinals taking an early lead, the Cubs scoring a comeback victory in extra innings, and Ryne Sandberg having one of the greatest individual performances in baseball history.

Let me set the scene for you. The Cubs were down 9-8 in the bottom of the 9th inning. There were two outs and Sandberg came up to bat. He was facing Bruce Sutter, one of the toughest relivers in the game, and a future Hall-of-Famer. Sandberg saw a pitch up in the zone and he knocked it deep into the left field bleachers  to tie the score.

My dad and I had seen enough Cubs games over the years to not get our hopes up. After all, we had watched them finish each of the previous 11 seasons with a losing record. Although they had come back from a 9-3 deficit, we still didn’t hold out much hope that they would tie, let alone win, the game.

But the 1984 Cubs were a different team. We didn’t know it yet, but they would go on to have a terrific season, winning 96 games, and they would go on to fall just one game short of reaching the World Series, breaking our hearts in the process. Sandberg’s home run caught us by surprise, and we were both suddenly much more interested in the game.

In the tenth inning, the Cardinals scored two runs to take an 11-9 lead, and we were once again certain the Cubs were going to lose. In the bottom half of the inning, Sandberg came to bat again, this time with a runner on first and two outs. Sutter was still on the mound (it was a different time). My dad said, “Can you imagine if Sandberg hits another home run?” One pitch later, he did exactly that, tying the game once again.

My dad did not show much emotion, but when Sandberg hit the ball, Dad let out an “Oh!” I was as surprised by Dad’s relative outburst as I was with Sandberg’s home run. I threw my hands in the air and watched the ball land in almost the exact same spot Sandberg’s 9th inning home run had landed. I looked back at Dad, and he was smiling broadly. There was an excitement in his eyes, and he laughed, a sound I had heard precious little in the previous few years.

The Cubs went on to win the game 12-11 in 11 innings. My life was no closer to being figured out, but at least for that one day–at least for a few hours–I wasn’t worried about it.

Today is the 40th anniversary of The Sandberg Game. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago. Dad is gone now, and I’ve reached middle age, assuming I live to be 128 years old. Life moves on.

Tonight at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Cubs will unveil a statue of Ryne Sandberg, commemorating his Hall of Fame career. It seems only right that Ryno’s statue be unveiled on the anniversary of The Sandberg Game. Ryne is my all-time favorite Cub, and it was on June 23, 1984 that reverence was cemented.

Here are Sandberg’s two game-tying home runs with Bob Costas and Tony Kubek on the call:

Here is Bob Costas talking about The Sandberg Game on the Rich Eisen show back in 2021.


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