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Cubs' Sandberg, Kid Natural in '84, Taking Back Seat to Herr This Year

July 14, 1985|United Press International

CHICAGO — He was dubbed "Kid Natural" by adoring fans--and he lived up to the billing.

Real life's answer to the film character, Roy Hobbs, was Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs in 1984. With his boyish good looks, country charm and sizzling bats, "Ryno" led Cubs fans on an odyssey of victories and the National League Eastern Division flag.

The adulation for the Cubs' second baseman led to a bevy of post-season awards, including the MVP trophy. Experts pegged him as the All-Star second baseman for a decade;Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals labeled him the best player he ever saw.

But at All-Star time this year, some of the tarnish has been rubbed off that seemingly perfect Sandberg story. Suddenly, "Kid Natural" was finding the hits harder to come by than in the magical 1984 campaign.

He was even susceptible to lapses in the field;quite a contrast from a Gold Glove 1984 campaign.

Worse yet, that movie image of Roy Hobbs of "The Natural" had somehow gone south. People were pegging Tommie Herr of Herzog's Cardinals as the 1985 Kid Natural. Herr was having the kind of year this season Sandberg did one year ago.

Like Sandberg, Herr practically came out of nowhere to lead the league in hitting and other offensive categories. With a late surge, Herr passed Sandberg in the fan balloting for the All-Star starting lineups and will be at second base in Minneapolis on July 16.

Sandberg shrugs off the comparisons between his two seasons of 1984 and 1985. He accurately points out that the entire league's hitting is off and he has come on strong in the weeks leading up to the All-Star game. Shortly before the break, he had an 18-game hitting streak and later boosted his home run total to 12 with a pair against San Diego on July 9.

A streak of another sort, the losing kind, was still on his mind.

"We all got off to a slow start, especially during the streak," Sandberg said of the Cubs' June swoon, which saw them equal a club record with 13 straight defeats. "I kinda feel that lately I've been coming out of it and so has the team."

Sandberg started 1985 as he did his rookie campaign when he was stuck in a hitting drought recalling the debut of Willie Mays. He went 1 for 31 in 1982 and although he fared better this year, his average was still in the .160s after one month of the season.

He started to hit a little better when he returned to the lineup after he suffered a rib injury that sidelined him for a time.

"I'm not going to use that as an excuse," Sandberg says. "Besides, it wasn't all that serious an injury."

But his manager, Jim Frey, notes Sandberg probably was hitting in pain before doctors told him to get out of the lineup.

"It isn't fair to say Sandberg wasn't hitting, though. No one was," Frey says. "By the end of the year, look at Sandberg's statistics and then evaluate him."

At the All-Star break in 1984, Sandberg was in the .330 range with more than 55 RBI. He led the league in four offensive categories and was the hottest hitter in either league.

Approaching the All-Star break in 1985, Sandberg was at .286 by July 9, closer to his career average but decidedly below his 1984 credentials.

The most notable tailoff was in run production. Sandberg's RBI totals were in the 20s, about one third of what he was accomplishing last year.

Cub observers quickly point to the downfall as being more the fault of the hitters batting ahead of Sandberg.

Bobby Dernier, the center fielder who came over from Philadelphia to form a "daily double" with Sandberg at the top of the lineup, slumped at the start of the year and then went on the disabled list for nearly a month. The RBI opportunities dwindled without Dernier, who was batting more than .300 at the break last year, getting on base to set up Sandberg.

Additionally, pitchers were more likely to face Sandberg with one out than one on because of the inability of the Cubs' leadoff men to get on.

"I don't blame the leadoff hitters for my not hitting," Sandberg said. "I wasn't hitting when they were getting on. I think Bobby, Davey (Lopes), Thad (Bosley)and (Billy)Hatchers have been getting the job done in the leadoff spot. I've just got to get them in."

In addition, outfielder Gary Matthews, the No. 3 man in the lineup, was injured early in the year. That afforded some pitchers the luxury of not having to give in to Sandberg.

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