10,000 days ago, one of the most famous regular season Cub games of all time took place. It was also the greatest Cubs-Cardinals game in memory, and the signature performance in the career of a Hall of Famer. In fact, the Cooperstown-bound player did so well that the game is often referred to in his name.
It’s a game whose legacy and place in the popular imagination (at least locally and perhaps regionally) stems from its appearance on NBC’s old “Game of the Week.” Back in pre-cable days, it was the only chance for the entire nation to see a game. Though cable had come to prominence before 10,000 days ago, the Game of the Week still held much of its cultural capital.
Sandberg or no Sandberg, it was a legitimately great game. Early on, it looked like anything but, as St. Louis burst out to a 7-1 lead and appeared to have the game well in hand against the perennially hapless Cubs. This being the Whitey Herzog Cardinals, they did it with zero homers. The biggest blast came from Willie McGee, who tripled in three runs in the second inning before scoring on a groundout shortly afterwards. Through four innings the only Cub run came on an RBI single.
Things got a little closer in the bottom of the fifth (with one run scoring on an RBI groundout by Sandberg). However, St. Louis immediately responded with two of their own in the top of the sixth when Willie McGee—having a career-best day himself—belted a homer with a runner on base.
With St. Louis up 9-3 heading into the bottom of the sixth, there was no reason for anyone to expect anything memorable from this game. But that’s when the Cubs exploded for a big rally. On two walks, a hit-by-pitch, a pair of singles, and a double, the Cubs scored five runs to make it 9-8. The last two runs scored on an RBI single by Sandberg, who was also thrown out at second trying to extend his hit for an extra base.
The score remained a 9-8 Cardinals lead until the bottom of the ninth. By now, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog had brought in his relief ace, future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who’d entered the game back in the seventh inning. Leading off the inning he got to face Chicago star Ryne Sandberg, who promptly deposited a Sutter offering for a game-tying home run. It was 9-9. The Cubs got a runner all the way to third but couldn’t bring him in, sending the game into extra frames.
St. Louis had lost their lead but not their resiliency. In the top of the 10th, they pushed a pair of runs across the plate, with the big blow coming from a Willie McGee double. Alongside his earlier triple, homer, and a fourth-inning single, McGee now had the cycle for the day. Unfortunately for him, that day would be the rare example of a batter being outshone while hitting for the cycle.
Bruce Sutter was still on the mound for St. Louis in the 10th to close out the game. After two routine groundouts put the Cardinals within sight of an 11-9 win, Sutter walked Chicago centerfielder Bob Dernier. That sent to the plate, of course, Ryne Sandberg. With one swing, Sandberg tied the score for the second straight inning with a home run off of Bruce Sutter.
In the 11th, St. Louis didn’t score but did pinch-hit for Sutter, so in the bottom frame new reliever Dave Rucker entered the game. He faced one batter, Leon Durham, whom he promptly walked. Shortly after new pitcher Jeff Lahti entered the game, Durham stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by the catcher. The Cubs were 90 feet from victory with none out.
Whitey Herzog decided to engage in some gamesmanship, intentionally walking the next two batters to set up the force play at the plate. Instead, it was all for naught as pinch hitter Dave Owen belted a single and Chicago had won 12-11. It was the only inning the Cubs pushed a run across the plate without Ryne Sandberg driving anyone in.
Despite not driving in the run, the game became synonymous with Ryne Sandberg. He’d done seemingly everything for them on the day. In the post-game press conference, Whitey Herzog called him “Baby Ruth” and suddenly Sandberg emerged as a star. He won MVP that year and became a perennial All-Star for the next decade.
And his rise to national prominence really began 10,000 days ago, with the greatest game of his career.
Aside from that, plenty of other events celebrate an anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.
1,000 days since Adam Dunn signed with the Nationals.
1,000 days since the Blue Jays signed free agent Kevin Millar.
3,000 days since the Yankees traded starting pitcher Sterling Hitchcock to the Cardinals.
3,000 days since a Giants victory put manager Felipe Alou over .500 for his career (768-767). He’ll stay over .500 from here on out.
6,000 days since Craig Biggio enjoyed his greatest day according to WPA. He went 2-for-4 with a homer, walk, two runs and three RBIs in Houston’s 6-5 win over the Marlins. His WPA: 0.854.
7,000 days since Danny Tartabull went 5-for-5 with two homers, a double, and a massive nine RBIs in a 16-4 Yankees win over the Orioles.
8,000 days since the A’s signed free agent Scott Sanderson.
8,000 days since Triple-A released eight umpires, include the game’s highest ranking female umpire, Pam Postema.
15,000 days since the Reds topped the Orioles 6-5 in Game Four of the World Series. Down three games to none, the Reds scored thrice in the top of the eighth to ward off the sweep. Instead, the went on to lose in five games.
30,000 days since Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell played his 115th consecutive game without striking out. That’s the all-time record.
40,000 days since workhorse pitcher George Mullin made his big league debut.
1894 King Kelly, Hall of Famer and maybe baseball’s biggest stars in the 1880s, dies.
1896 Bucky Harris, Hall of Fame manager, is born.
1912 Cupid Childs, super second baseman from the 1890s, dies at age 45.
1920 A meeting of owners designed to depose AL founder Ban Johnson calls for creating a 12-team NL is held. The plan’s supporters need at least of one of the five owners loyal to Ban Johnson to sign on, but none do, ending the plan.
1934 Ford Frick becomes NL president. Formerly he served as NL publicity director.
1944 Ed Kranepool, eternal Met, is born.
1950 Baseball commissioner Happy Chandler and a representative of the players agree to split TV/radio rights from the World Series.
1952 Second baseman Jerry Remy is born.
1952 John Denny, pitcher, is born.
1954 AL owners approve by a 6-2 vote to let the A’s move to Kansas City. The Senators and Indians are the dissenting votes.
1954 New A’s owner Arnold Johnson agrees to sell Yankee Stadium. That’s right—the A’s owner is also the owner of Yankee Stadium for a brief stretch.
1955 The Washington Senators trade Mickey Vernon to the Red Sox in a nine-player deal.
1961 The White Sox buy a hotel in Sarasota, Fla. to solve their problems in spring training trying to find a home for their integrated team in a largely segregated state.
1965 Jeff Blauser, infielder, is born.
1967 Henry Rodriguez, outfielder, is born.
1974 The Padres trade Cito Gaston to the Braves.
1977 Bucky Harris dies on his 81st birthday.
1977 Nick Punto, infielder, is born.
1979 New York Mets president Lorinda de Roulet announces the team is for sale.
1990 Former big leaguer Earl Torgeson dies.
1990 The Dodgers sign free agent Darryl Strawberry.
1998 The Mets announce that GM Steve Phillips will take a paid leave of absence while a threatened sexual harassment suit against him is resolved.
1999 The U.S. Senate passes a resolution calling for Shoeless Joe Jackson to be honored.