CHICAGO -- He experienced a lengthy flight delay on his way into Chicago and had to catch yet another flight later in the evening -- with a winter storm warning in effect -- to make an engagement in New York on Wednesday, but nothing could take the smile off Ryne Sandberg's face on Tuesday night.
At a press conference at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare, a beaming Sandberg walked in to a standing ovation, between plane changes, donned his official Baseball Hall of Fame baseball cap and raised his arms in delight to the warm greeting after having been elected to Cooperstown, in his third year on the ballot, earlier in the day.
"This is perfect for me to be able to make a quick stop here in Chicago," said Sandberg. "My career was obviously spent here, 15 1/2 years here in a Cubs uniform, so I wouldn't want it any other way than to stop here and share this with all my friends, and all the Cub fans and baseball fans in the city of Chicago. It's a great place to play and I am just thrilled."
Sandberg, who received 393 votes in the balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- 387 being the requirement for induction -- admitted it was a whirlwind of a day, and it began with the all-important phone call.
"Margaret [Sandberg's wife] and I thought the phone call was going to be coming around 11:00 in the morning, if it was going to come at all," he said. "The phone rang at 10:30 and Margaret saw that the caller ID said 'Baseball Hall of Fame.' So that phone was like a hot potato. She ran and said, 'Ryne, pick up the phone, it's for you!'
"From that point on, it's just been non-stop today. The first phone call I got from people who had heard was from Don Zimmer and that was a big thrill, and I've heard from many teammates and friends all day long. I've never talked so much on the phone in my life as I did today."
Sandberg took time to acknowledge Andre Dawson, Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter as clear candidates for the Hall of Fame -- Sutter finished third in the balloting with 66.7 percent of the ballots, while Dawson and Smith finished with 52.3 percent and 38.8 percent, respectively -- and believes beloved Cubs radio announcer and former third baseman Ron Santo has the credentials to get in as well.
| 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'm a big fan of Ron Santo's, and he's got the stats to go into the Hall of Fame," Sandberg said. "I'll have my fingers crossed and hopefully he'll be there with me."
Santo is one of 25 former Major League players on the 2005 Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot, on which Veterans Committee members will cast their votes in January. Results of the election will be announced on March 2. He is also a finalist for the Ford C. Frick award and will find out if he is able to enter the Hall as a broadcaster on February 22.
But emerging as a leading man in Sandberg's tribute to those who affected him throughout his career is former Cubs manager Jim Frey, who holds a special place in Sandberg's heart.
"In '84 I received good advice from Jim Frey, who thought that with my size and my ability he wanted me to swing for power and be more of an impact player offensively. So that year was very, very big for me and Jim Frey was a big part of that."
Frey was such a big part that Sandberg announced he would ask Frey to introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but unlike other sports, the Cooperstown induction ceremony does not allow for presenters. Rather, the Hall of Fame's chairman welcomes the new Hall of Famer to the class.
But, it's the thought that counts.
"He was the most instrumental as far as me going to another level of play," Sandberg said of Frey. "He walked me down to the batting cages in Spring Training and taught me how to pull the ball down the third-base line and hit it hard. So here was the manager soft-tossing to me and it was 8:00 in the morning. He thought that I could be more productive and do more than I was doing, so he had that insight and I went with it."
Sandberg went on to win the National League MVP award that year, batting .314 with 36 doubles, 19 triples, 19 homers, 84 RBIs, a league-high 114 runs scored and 32 stolen bases. He also thrilled a national audience on June 23 by going 5-for-6 with seven RBIs and two late-inning dramatic homers off Sutter to help the Cubs to a 12-11 win over the Cardinals in 11 innings, made his first All-Star Game start and the Cubs rolled all the way to the NLCS. It isn't difficult to see why he labeled that season as the highlight of his illustrious career.
"I think the two winning years in '84 and '89 were very special to me and to the city of Chicago. The city just goes nuts for a winner and those two years, maybe especially '84 because it had been so long. That season seemed to just fly by and when the season did end, I wasn't ready to quit."
At the end of a memorable day, Sandberg treated his much-deserved honor in exactly the same fashion as he did throughout his career as a Chicago Cub, with complete modesty and a lack of ego that makes him so beloved to this day. And on a day where one would be expected to bask in the spotlight, Sandberg shared his moment with the team he will represent proudly in the Hall of Fame.
"To wear a Cubs hat into Cooperstown, that is going to be a great feeling. Chicago has been a home to me, I have a lot of great friends here and it's a great organization.
"I enjoyed my time at Wrigley Field and to wear that Cubs hat, maybe this is the start of something special for the year 2005 for the Cubs. I think they're going to have a good team this year and maybe this will be a part of it."
Jeremy Smith is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.