Man, if someone had told you entering the 1984 season that Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg would be part of the baseball elite within a calendar year, you would have said they were smoking the Wrigley Field ivy.
Unless, maybe …
You were a wait-’til-next-year optimist, or a super scout with super vision who saw what others couldn’t, or a downright seer.
Or, like, Sandberg’s mom.
If you were anyone else, though, it was hard to imagine the third-year Chicago second baseman breaking out of the mold of hitting .260-.270 with maybe double-digit power but good speed that he had established in more than two full years in the Major Leagues.
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He was already 24, after all, not really a prospect any more, and he toiled for the 71-91 Cubs (in 1983), never anybody’s pick to do big things in the old NL East. Not with the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals hanging around.
Thank goodness for the lowly New York Mets.
But then, the 1984 season began, and baseball surprised us, as it’s wont to do.
In the end, of course, the Tigers fulfilled their destiny, dispatching the Padres in a ho-hum five-game World Series.
But a whole new bevvy of stars emerged, none more surprising to most of us than Ryne Sandberg (OK, maybe Barbaro Garbey was more surprising, but that didn’t last. And Don Mattingly, but stop nitpicking.)
All Sandberg did that summer was pace the Cubbies offense with a very balanced batting line that included a .314 batting average, 19 home runs, 19 triples, 84 RBI, 32 stolen bases, and an even 200 hits.
Do that with a turnaround Cinderella team, and you’ll get noticed.
And so Ryno did, nabbing his first All-Star birth, his second Gold Glove at second … and the National League MVP Award.
That recognition extended to Sandberg’s baseball cards, too.
I mean …
If you take a look at his master set listing over on the PSA website, you’ll see eleven Sandberg cards in 1984.
And 1985, the year after his breakout? Nearly forty different cards!
Part of that is due to the general continued growth of the hobby during those years, but most of it rests squarely with Sandberg’s own performance and growing celebrity with the Cubs.
You can really see that play out when you consider some of the exclusive cardboard company the budding Chicago legend began keeping in 1985.
Case in point — the 1985 Kitty Clover Potato Chips set, issued by (suprise!) Kitty Clover Potato Chips
These were a sort of souped-up version of the MSA discs from the late 1970s, with a bit more color (yellow and red) and stats on the card backs.
And, though Kitty Clover has firm Midwest roots, their discs covered the game’s big stars from coast to coast, Dave Winfield to Goose Gossage, and everywhere in between (Mike Schmidt, Alan Trammell).
But guess which youngster crashed the party, checking in at disc #11.
Yep, Ryne Sandberg, a newly-minted cardboard god, just taking his first real steps toward Cooperstown.
It was a turn of events no one this side of Dallas Green could have seen coming.
Wow! Wax of the Day
Sandberg made the cut of an even more exclusive cardboard team in 1985, too — the 1985 Donruss box-bottom set.
That one consisted of three cards printed right on the bottom of wax boxes that season, with a checklist made up of — the Lou Gehrig Hall of Fame Diamond King puzzle, a second Donruss rookie card of Dwight Gooden, and White Sox slugger Ron Kittle, along with Ryno, of course.
Those cards were hot commodities that summer of 1985, and for several years thereafter.
The best, funnest way to get them, of course, was to buy a full, unopened box of 1985 Donruss wax packs, just like this eBay lot offers (affiliate link).
If you were in the hobby back then, this lot is sure to bring back some amazing memories. Check out the full listing on eBay here. (affiliate link)