I grew up admiring Ryne Sandberg. He was a hard-hitting, smooth-fielding second baseman, and while his hitting statistics look a little wimpy compared to the steroids era, in the 1980s the sight of him in the on-deck circle struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. He went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I’m glad to have had the chance to watch him play. I watched him a lot, because all the Cubs games were on WGN, which was available nationally.
Now Sandberg is the new manager of the Phillies. As a Kansas City Royals fan–bear with me–I have a special perspective on this.
ESPN’s David Schoenfield writes, regarding Hall of Fame votes, and Bruce Sutter vs Lee Smith specifically:
Why does [Bruce] Sutter start at 23.9 percent [of the vote] and later gain momentum and enshrinement after 13 years on the ballot, but Lee Smith start at 42.3 percent and after nine years remain at 45.3 percent?
It doesn’t make sense.
As someone who grew up in St. Louis watching both pitchers, it makes sense to me. Sutter and Smith look similar by some mathematical models, but the people who watched them remember them differently. And memory is everything when it comes to close-call Hall of Fame candidates.
I’m a Royals fan living in St. Louis, so my perspective on Albert Pujols has always been that he’s the one who got away. He went to high school and college in Kansas City, but somehow Royals scouts overlooked him. The Cardinals signed him, and he became a once-in-a-generation player. Even if he never plays another game in the majors, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Fans loved him, because, well, who doesn’t like a guy who hits .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in the worst year of his career? He’s always been detached and distant, but St. Louisans will forgive that for wins and numbers. He talked about being a Cardinal for life, but then St. Louis woke up on Thursday morning, drove to work, and found out on the rush-hour radio that he was gone, signed to the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, the Tikki Tikki Tembo Nosa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Pen Pembo of baseball.