CHICAGO -- Harry Caray called him the greatest second baseman he ever saw. Whitey Herzog dubbed him "Baby Ruth." Ryne Sandberg's teammates and opponents knew him as one of the most consistent players ever, and some labeled him "Kid Natural."
He can add a well-deserved name now. Ryne Sandberg is a Hall of Famer.
The third time was the charm for Sandberg, who was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his third year on the ballot. He received 393 votes (76.2%) in the balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, announced Tuesday. There were 516 votes cast, with 387 (75%) necessary for election.
"It was one of the more incredible phone calls I've ever received," said Sandberg. "It came a little earlier than I expected and it caught me a little off guard, but total elation set in shortly after that."
The second baseman, who played all but one of his 16 big league seasons with the Chicago Cubs, will be inducted into Cooperstown with Wade Boggs, who received 474 votes (91.9%).In his first year on the ballot, Sandberg received 244 votes, or 49.2 percent. He garnered 309 votes, or 61.1 percent, last year.
He is the 15th second baseman elected and the eighth player elected into the Hall of Fame on the third try, joining Grover Cleveland Alexander, Carl Hubbell, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Mel Ott and Gaylord Perry.
Sandberg isn't bothered in the least about having to wait for the call.
"I learned a long time ago that there are no guarantees in baseball," said Sandberg. "There have been some tremendous, tremendous players that have waited longer than I had to wait to get into the Hall of Fame. I don't think it's ever too late, and it doesn't diminish the honor at all. You're either in the Hall of Fame or you're not, and I'm just very happy today."
| 2005 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
Wade, Ryno are Hall choices
No doubts about Class of 2005
Boggs hits his way to the Hall
Ryno charges into Hall of Fame
Red Sox lavish praise on Boggs
Rays react to Boggs Hall call
From Beantown to Bronx to Hall
Sutter closing in on Hall of Fame
Boggs is fans' favorite to make Hall
"I think defense had everything to do with me getting into the Hall of Fame. I think my defense was what helped me break into the Majors. I earned the everyday job at the age of 22 as the starting third baseman, and my defense kept me in. I started my rookie year, I think, 0-for-30 or 1-for-31. But my defense was solid, and it kept me in there.
"I always took pride in my defense and the Gold Glove in '83 set the tone for my play and helped me achieve one of my goals, which was to win a Gold Glove every year."
When Sandberg retired for a second time in 1997, then-San Francisco manager Dusty Baker called him "one of the class guys in the game. There are guys who showboat or talk a lot of stuff. He just plays."
That's one of the reasons Baker invited Sandberg to the Cubs' Spring Training camp when he took over the Chicago job. Baker likes that link to history, especially when it involves a quality player like Sandberg.
Sandberg has nine Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards and a National League MVP trophy, which he won in 1984. He enters the Hall with a .285 career batting average, 282 home runs and 1,061 RBIs. When he retired in 1997, he was the all-time home run leader among second basemen with 277. Jeff Kent surpassed that mark in 2004.
On June 23, 1984, in what is known as "The Sandberg Game," he went 5-for-6 and drove in seven runs in the Cubs' 12-11 win over St. Louis, hitting consecutive game-tying homers off Bruce Sutter in the ninth and 10th innings. Willie McGee hit for the cycle in a losing effort.
"[That game] ranks right up at the very top along with winning the Eastern Division in '84 and '89," said Sandberg. "That particular game catapulted me and let me know I could play at a different level than I thought I could play at.
"Being a nationally televised game, I knew I was No. 2 in the All-Star voting when the game was going on. A week later, that number shot up and I was voted to play in my first All-Star Game. To do that off a pitcher the caliber of Bruce Sutter makes that story that much more magnifying. And of course in my book, Bruce Sutter is a Hall of Famer."
"One day I think he's one of the best players in the National League," said Herzog, then the Cardinals manager. "The next day, I think he's one of the best players I've ever seen."
In 1990, Sandberg led the National League with 40 home runs and 116 runs. He played a Major League-record 123 games without an error at second, and compiled 12 errorless streaks of at least 40 games.
He led National League second basemen in assists in seven seasons, had nine seasons of eight or fewer errors, five years with a batting average of at least .300, and four as the NL's top fielding second baseman.
"Second base was home for me," Sandberg said in an earlier interview. "Once the game started, those were the best three hours of the day for me."
A 20th-round draft pick, Sandberg had to work hard and religiously took grounders at second every day. He had no ego, wasn't flashy, but got the job done. And while a favorite of fans at Wrigley Field, Sandberg returns that affection to the Friendly Confines and to those who support him.
"From the moment I got to the ballpark," he said, "I knew that all my games would be on WGN-TV, Harry Caray and Steve Stone would be doing the games, all my relatives, family and friends would have a chance to watch me every day that I played and that was a huge lift for me.
"I don't think there's a better atmosphere for a baseball player on a daily basis than Wrigley Field. The crowd's into it and I enjoyed day baseball. I could always see the ball really well. I knew that when there was a home game at Wrigley, if I was struggling, I could turn things around in that game because I loved to play there."
"He is what you see," Sandberg's former teammate and current Cubs coach Gary Matthews once said. "He thrives on winning. He thrives on having fun when he plays the game. He was really consistent and really a clutch ballplayer during the years we were together. He played unselfishly. The main thing is that he was happy to play."
For Sandberg, the call to the Hall is joyous but it also provides him with a sense of closure on a splendid career.
"One of my goals for 20 years was to play in a World Series and win a World Series," said Sandberg. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen for me in Chicago. But [Tuesday] put the exclamation point and diminished that frustration I had for so many years.
"I'd call it some type of closure and tremendous satisfaction."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Jeremy Smith, an editorial producer for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.