True to his style as a Sherwin-Williams kind of guy, Ryne Sandberg won't try to describe his 16-year career as some masterwork by Picasso. He would rather not discuss it at all.
"You're asking me to brag about myself," Sandberg said Tuesday when asked if any part of his game had been undervalued. "That's not my style, never has been. I wouldn't change any of that. If my persona fits the Hall of Fame, then it will happen sometime. If it doesn't, then so be it. I'm not the type to talk about myself."
Mike Schmidt, he isn'tbut soon it won't matter.
On the day Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were elected to the Hall of Fame, the most intriguing subplot was Sandberg positioning himself to be the first former Cubs great elected to the Hall since Ferguson Jenkins in 1991.
Eckersley passed through Wrigley Field, sure. But he got in for his work in Oakland and Boston, not the 27-26 record with the Cubs.
Molitor is in for his batting, eighth on the career list with 3,319 hits. He was listed on 85.2 percent (431 of 506) of the ballots cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. For election, players must get at least 75 percent of the vote. Eckersley was on 421 ballots, 83.2 percent.
Sandberg was third with 309 votes, followed by Bruce Sutter (301), Jim Rice (276), Andre Dawson (253), Rich Gossage (206), Lee Smith (185) and Bert Blyleven (179).
Eckersley's Chicago ties do nothing to salve any civic inferiority complex caused by the treatment given Ron Santo, Minnie Minoso, Dick Allen, Dawson and Smith in recent years.
And think about the disappointment likely awaiting Harold Baines in three years, when he'll go onto the ballot only to replace Dawson as the player with the most career hits (2,866) denied a bust in the Hall of Fame. But why fret about a future rejection when there is actually something quite positive to anticipate?
Sandberg likely is headed to the Hall. He missed election by a wide margin (71 votes) this time yet his climbing totals foretell likely election, and probably sooner rather than later.
Give him credit for seeing the latest vote as a pat on the back, not a slap in the face.
Rather than being bitter about being passed over for the second year, Sandberg was heartened by a 65-vote jump after his first year on the ballot. He had finished sixth a year agobehind Sutter, Jim Rice and Dawson, as well as inductees Eddie Murray and Gary Carterbut has moved to the head of the pack.
"Very positive," Sandberg said. "I must say I feel honored finishing in third place behind two Hall of Famers who were voted in. With the increase in percentage, that's nothing but positive."
Sandberg, a nine-time Gold Glover who hit more home runs than any second baseman, received 309 of a possible 506 votes, 61.1 percent. He had failed to get even 50 percent in the last election (244 of 492).
Only four former players ever have had a bigger increase in votes from their first year on the ballot to the secondYogi Berra, Minoso, Catfish Hunter and Carlton Fisk. The only one of those guys not enshrined in Cooperstown is Minoso, who had a 17-year gap between times on the ballot because of his frequent comebacks.
Sandberg becomes the 13th player to gain at least 50 votes between his first and second years on the ballot. Nine of his 12 predecessors have been elected, and Sandberg doesn't appear destined to wind up assigned to the same rung of history as the three exceptions, Minoso, Gil Hodges and Maury Wills.
Consider that Sandberg also is the 15th player since 1980 to receive a jump of at least 50 votes in any year on the ballot. The 14 others are all in the Hall, with 11 elected by the writers and Nellie Fox, Jim Bunning and Orlando Cepeda earning approval of the Veterans Committee.
The near-misses (Fox, Bunning and Cepeda) had been on the ballot at least 10 years before their totals surged. They became causes at some point. Sandberg has moved into position where he can become a cause, even if it doesn't suit his personality.
Here are some other quick thoughts about voting for the Class of 2004:
Molitor was called "the Igniter" for a reason. Students of the game should pay close attention when he talks about the approach that allowed him to become a Hall of Famer while spending 1,174 games as a designated hitter.
Next to Pete Rose, perhaps no pure hitter in the modern era did more to create runs than Molitor, who had 504 stolen bases to go with a career on-base percentage of .372. If one could get a tape showing every at-bat of one hitter's season, maybe it shouldn't be Barry Bonds' 2001 fireworks. Either Rose in 1968 or Molitor in 1987 (.353, more walks than strikeouts, 45 stolen bases and a league-leading 41 doubles and 114 runs scored even though leg injuries limited him to 118 games) might be better viewing.
It's hard to be too hopeful for Dawson, who dropped from fifth to sixth place. He opened with 45.3 percent of the vote in 2001 but has climbed only to 50 percent, getting exactly half the votes in '03 (248 of 496) and '04 (253 of 506).
Sutter, who will be on the ballot only four more years, could make it interesting. As recently as 1999, he received only 24 percent of the vote. But he picked up 71 votes in 2000, 53 in '01, 28 in '03 and another 35 this year. He's at 59.5 percent, and climbing. The picture isn't as promising for two other prominent relievers. Goose Gossage and Smith both lost ground.
Alan Trammell doesn't have as many supporters as he deserves but at least those he has are loyal. He received 70 votes, matching his 2003 total.
Rose could join Wade Boggs on next year's ballot. It also will include Jack McDowell, Darryl Strawberry and Jim Abbott as first-timers. Orel Hershiser is the top name in line to go on the ballot in 2006, with Mark McGwire, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. set for '07.