Ryne Sandberg, second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Excerpts from his remarks in Cooperstown, N.Y., offer a sobering context for yesterday's reports of steroid use by ballplayers, including the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro.
THE REASON I am here, they tell me, is that I played the game a certain way, that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I don't know about that, but I do know this: I had too much respect for the game to play it any other way, and if there was a single reason I am here today, it is because of one word: respect. I love to play baseball.
Everything I am today, everything I have today, everything I will ever be is because of the game of baseball. Not the game you see on TV or in movies; baseball, the one we all know, the one we played with whiffle ball bats pretending to be Yaz or Fisk or Rose, in dirt fields and in alleys. We all know that game. The game fit me because it was right. It was all about doing things right. If you played the game the right way, played the game for the team, good things would happen. That's what I loved most about the game, how a ground out to second with a man on second and nobody out was a great thing. Respect.
I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. Make a great play, act like you've done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases; hit a home run, put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases - because the name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back. That's respect. My managers like Don Zimmer and Jim Frey, they always said I made things easy on them by showing up on time, never getting into trouble, being ready to play every day, leading by example, being unselfish. I made things easy on them? These things they talk about, playing every day, that was my job. I had too much respect for them and for the game to let them down. I was afraid to let them down. I didn't want to let them down or let the fans down or my teammates or my family or myself. I had too much respect for them to let them down.
When did it become OK for someone to hit home runs and forget how to play the rest of the game? When we went home every winter, they warned us not to lift heavy weights because they didn't want us to lose flexibility. They wanted us to be baseball players, not only home run hitters. I played high school football at 185 pounds and played big-league baseball at 182. I'd get up to maybe 188 in the off season because every summer I'd lose 8 to 10 pounds. In my day, if a guy came to spring training 20 pounds heavier than what he left, he was considered out of shape and was probably in trouble. He'd be under a microscope, and the first time he couldn't beat out a base hit or missed a fly ball, he was probably shipped out. These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It's disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up. Respect.
A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn't work hard for validation. I didn't play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that's what you're supposed to do, play it right and with respect. If this validates anything, it's that learning how to bunt and hit and run and turning two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light at the dugout camera.
Sure, I worked hard to get the most out of my God-given ability, but that's what we all did back then. That's what every one of these guys sitting here did. There were a lot of players who worked just as hard as I did, and if you didn't, you didn't stay in the big leagues.
The feeling I've had since I got the call is a feeling I suspect will never go away. I'm told it never does. It's the highest high you can imagine. I wish you all could feel what I feel standing here. This is my last big game. This is my last big at-bat. This is my last time catching the final out. I dreamed of this as a child, but I had too much respect for baseball to think this was ever possible. I believe it is because I had so much respect for the game and respect for getting the most out of my ability that I stand here today. I hope others in the future will know this feeling for the same reason: respect for the game of baseball. When we all played it, it was mandatory. It's something I hope we will one day see again.