June 23rd, 1984: ‘The Ryne Sandberg Game’
In his three seasons with the team, second baseman Ryne Sandberg was still a young prospect learning the game at a professional level. He has been acquired from the Phillies after his rookie campaign in 1982 and was still considered a relatively unknown player outside the city of Chicago. On June 23rd Sandberg would have his coming-out performance with a monster game against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The afternoon game at Wrigley Field was the NBC Game of the Week and would showcase a number of future Hall of Fame players including Sandberg. He got his day started with an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game at one a piece. However, the Cardinals would respond in the second inning by scoring six runs to take a seven to one lead. The team stayed relatively quiet until Sandberg helped lead a comeback in the fifth inning when he brought in a run on an RBI ground out.
With the Cubs trailing by one inning in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals brought Bruce Sutter into the game in the attempts to close out the Cubs. Sandberg came to the plate in the ninth with four RBI for the day, which was a career high for the 24-year old. Sandberg hit a lead-off home run to tie the game at nine runs a piece in a showdown that would go into extra innings.
The Cardinals would once again have a strong inning by scoring two runs in the top of the tenth. The Wrigley faithful were once again silenced as Sutter came back to pitch the tenth inning. After retiring the first two Cubs batters, Sutter walked Dernier and brought Sandberg back up to the plate. With one swing of the bat, Sandberg hit a two-run home run over the left field wall that tied the game at 11. The Cubs would score one more run that inning and beat the Cardinals by a score of 12-11.
Sandberg had a career day by finishing five-for-six with two home runs and seven RBI. It was extraordinary performances such as this late-June showcase that would lead Sandberg to be voted to his first career All-Star appearance before eventually being named the National League Most Valuable Player for 1984.
Second-half of the season and a rare playoff birth
The second-half of the 1984 season for the Chicago Cubs was an even stronger campaign than the first 80 games. The team went 48-29 to take a 6 game lead over the Mets to win the 1984 National League East and to clinch their first trip to the playoffs in 39 years.
The summer baseball months were dominated by Cubs pitching. After coming to the team in mid-June, Sutcliffe went 16-1 with an ERA of 2.69 and 155 strikeouts in just over 150 innings pitched. Eckersley and Trout collectively went 23-15 for the season with 162 strikeouts and a combined ERA of 3.22.
The Cubs first trip to the playoffs in nearly 40 years would be against the San Diego Padres in a five game series to decide who would represent the National League in the World Series. Sutcliffe pitched the first game of the series, pitching in prime form, as the Cubs would shut out the Padres 13-0. They would go on to win the second game in Chicago by a score of 4-2 and would take a 2-0 lead in the series. The next three games would be played at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego and the Cubs would have a difficult time re-kindling the fire that stayed strong all season. In the next three games, the Cubs would be outscored 20-8 and were swept out of the playoffs, ending a season that meant a great deal to the city of Chicago.
Impact of the 1984 season
30 years later this team is still beloved in the city as being one of the last Cubs teams to rally behind and get excited about going into October. When the season was all said and done, the Cubs finished 96-65 with the second best record in baseball behind the eventual champions the Detroit Tigers.
In his first season as Cubs manager, Jim Frey was named the National League Manager of the Year in only the second year the honor was awarded in baseball. Ryne Sandberg finished his spectacular season by hitting .314 with 200 hits, 19 home runs, and 84 RBI. And Rick Sutcliff went on to win the National League Cy Young Award after pitching in only 20 games on the North side. The 1984 Cubs are only one-of-five teams to win Manager of the Year, the Cy Young, and MVP all in the same season. In addition to these remarkable accomplishments, catcher Jody Davis was named to his first All-Star game and Bob Dernier won a Gold Glove for his work in center field.
1984 was also the season that Grammy-award winning artist Steve Goodman recorded the track “Go Cubs Go” which was played as the lead-in music for WGN radio and is still synonymous today with Cubs victories at Wrigley field. That same season the Cubs went on to draft a young right-hander named Gregory Alan Maddux in the second round of the 1984 draft. He would go on to have a pretty good career.
It’s hard for Cubs fans to remain optimistic from year to year and every season seems to end with the solemn promise that “next season is our year.” The team would go on to make the playoffs only four times in the next 30 years and many believe that the 2014 season will end the same way so many other seasons have ended. But nonetheless, Cubs fans continue to remain optimistic and flock to Wrigley Field as ritualistically as if they were attending Sunday mass. If the 1984 Cubs have any lasting legacy, outside the city of Chicago, it’s that any team can make a significant turnaround from one year to the next. To Cubs fans, the 1984 team is immortalized on the roof top overlooking Wrigley Field and remains one of the most polarized teams in the franchise’s history.
30 years later and they’re still singing ‘Go Cubs Go.’