In Courtroom 401 of the Southeast Regional Public Service
Facility in Mesa, Ariz., one of the best second basemen ever to
play baseball stands before a Superior Court judge, wearing
chino slacks and a button-down tattersall shirt so new that the
telltale creases have yet to meet the heat of an iron. Ryne
Sandberg, 36, appears boyish, especially so when his bride of
six months, Margaret, keeps fussing with the buttons on his two
To their left, Ryne's former wife, Cindy, rocks in a chair with
her legs crossed beneath the skirt of her blue suit. She smiles
smugly as she looks over at both of them. Not once in what will
be a 70-minute hearing does Ryne or Margaret look at Cindy.
Ryne is in court on Feb. 28 having left a Chicago Cubs' spring
training workout under the cover of a lie from his team. ("I
sent him home," says manager Jim Riggleman, as a reward for
"working hard.") Sandberg is asking that his two children,
Lindsey, 13, and Justin, 11, spend nearly one half of the
upcoming baseball season with him, including accompanying him to
some road games. Cindy says if Ryne wants to see his children,
he can fly home to Phoenix on off days.
Ryne's presence in court suggests what he later confesses: His
reasons for quitting and returning to baseball are intensely
more personal and complicated than he had admitted previously.
March 11, 1996
Cindy's attorney, John Rasmussen, asks Ryne what his 1996 salary
will be. "I don't even have that information," Ryne says.
Rasmussen asks Ryne whether he would receive $1 million in a
series of bonuses if he played 150 games. "I'd like to play 162
games," he says, "but I haven't studied [the bonus provisions of
Later the judge, Michael McVey, asks Cindy when the school year
ends for the two children. "I did not bring my schedule with
me," she says.
Suddenly, Ryne pipes up. "May 24!" he says. Sandberg, a 10-time
All-Star, the surest-handed player ever at his position and the
only man with seasons of 40 home runs and 50 stolen bases,
cannot recall the particulars of his contract. But he knows
exactly when school ends for his children.
On the morning of June 11, 1994, Ryne woke up and decided to
quit baseball. He told his manager, Tom Trebelhorn, before he
told Cindy. At a press conference two days later he explained
that he had lost his zest for the game and was returning to a
happy family life in Phoenix. In a subsequent 1995
autobiography, Second to Home, he also said he was fed up with
the chaos of the Cubs, most of which he blamed on then-general
manager Larry Himes.
Sandberg wrote, "I quit because I didn't like my job
anymore....The truth is my personal situation had nothing to do
with why I announced my retirement from baseball." He wrote
"everything was fine" with his marriage at the time he retired.
However, court documents and interviews with Sandberg and people
familiar with his decision show that Ryne, miserable and lonely
away from his family, suspected that his marriage to Cindy was
careering toward divorce and, largely because of his intense
love for his children, opted to walk away from baseball and the
nearly $16 million left on his contract.
"A player once said that Ryno really only has two real friends
in the world: Lindsey and Justin," says one Sandberg associate.
"You're a public figure looking at going through a public
divorce. You hate what's going on with the team, and there's
trouble with your wife. What do you do? It was easy for him to
go to the one thing he had to hold on to: the kids. He didn't
need the money. So why stay?"
Says another source, "He quit because of the kids. Like a lot of
decisions, it's never one thing but 800 things. But he had to be
with the kids."
In court Cindy testified, "He retired to be with the children."
She declined to speak with SI.
Cindy had filed a divorce petition on Dec. 17, 1993--six months
before Ryne quit--that claimed the marriage was "irretrievably
broken." The Sandbergs reconciled 12 days later. She refiled on
June 20, 1994, just seven days after Ryne announced his
Ryne now says he knew his marriage was in trouble when he quit
but adds, "I wasn't sure how that was going to turn out. A lot
of things were on my mind. My marriage and the kids, that's
something personal. It was something that I had to take care of.
I didn't want to have it blown up all over the place. That's why
I said what I said."
His retirement shocked most everyone in baseball. Who could have
known the destructive undertow in his life churning beneath that
ever placid surface? A mortician's son from Spokane, Sandberg
revealed little of himself, even to teammates. "People think we
were tight just because we played together," says Shawon
Dunston, Sandberg's double play partner for nine years who now
plays shortstop for the San Francisco Giants. "Me and [first
baseman Mark] Grace were tight. But me and Ryno? No way. All
those years I lockered next to him, he probably said no more
than 10 to 15 words to me a day. And most of those were on
pop-ups. He'd say, 'You take it,' and I'd say, 'I got it.'"
Ryne married Cindy, his former high school sweetheart, in 1979,
when he was 19. That was his first full season in pro baseball.
He was homesick and alone in Spartanburg, S.C. He asked her to
visit him, and when she did, he insisted she stay. On May 8,
after one day of planning, they were married by a justice of the
peace. They did not immediately inform their parents. Asked if
he communicates with Cindy now, Ryne says, "When it's about the
As a part of the divorce, which became final on July 5, 1995,
Ryne and Cindy agreed to remain in the same Phoenix neighborhood
and entered into a 20-page "parenting plan" that gave them equal
time with their children, who alternate weeks in homes a short
Ryne insisted in his book that "I'll never play the game again"
and ridiculed those who doubted him, writing, "Hadn't I just
spent the  summer telling everyone that I didn't want to
travel anymore and that I wanted to stay home with the kids? I
don't know, maybe I need to speak more slowly."
Four days before the divorce decree, Ryne says, he became
engaged to Margaret Koehnemann, whom he describes as a
neighborhood friend whose three children also knew Justin and
Lindsey. Seven weeks later, on Aug. 19, Ryne and Margaret were
married. It was when Ryne took Margaret and her children to
Wrigley Field for a season-ending series against the Houston
Astros that he began talking about playing again. His agent, Jim
Turner, telephoned Cubs general manager Ed Lynch the morning
after the season finished and said, "I've got a shocker for
you." Lynch, however, was not shocked.
"Surprised maybe, but not shocked," he says. "If it's possible
to turn green with envy, Ryno did that weekend. You could see it
all over his face. And Margaret and the kids really got a kick
out of being there. People would keep asking Ryno for an
autograph, and she'd say, 'Can you believe this? They want his
autograph. Isn't this great?'"
Previously Ryne had preferred to keep Justin and Lindsey away
from the park, Cindy testified, so they would not grow up as
"baseball brats." But now he had a plan: He would come back to
play with his new wife and family cheering him on. He would rent
an apartment 10 minutes from Wrigley Field with room for the
gang. "I just want my kids to experience me enjoying baseball,
so we're all going to do this together," Ryne says.
Cindy wanted to put a stop to this new parenting plan,
preferring for the children to remain home, pursuing their
regular activities, instead of following their father to
ballparks. On Oct. 13--nearly three weeks before the Cubs
announced Sandberg's return--she filed a request for mediation of
"a controversy over custody and visitation" of the children.
When Cindy and Ryne met on Nov. 14 with the mediator, social
worker Robert L. Nunes, Ryne wound up walking out. Nunes
triple-checked "Agreement Not Reached" on his report to McVey.
"She was making threats about [my] not seeing the kids during
the baseball season," Ryne testified last week in McVey's court.
"That's when I got up and left."
Meanwhile, Ryne worked at getting his body ready to play
baseball again. "When I told my kids I was coming back," he
says, "Justin said, 'But Dad, you're out of shape.' He thought
of me as an old-timer. Thing is, he was right. But then I
started serious workouts and hit some home runs, and he knew it
Remarkably, Sandberg has shown virtually no rust in the Cubs'
camp. His bat speed, arm strength and fielding range still are
impressive enough to suggest a successful comeback that is not
without precedent. Other players who come back in their 30's
after missing at least one season for reasons other than injury
include: 34-year-old Jackie Jensen, who, following a year off
because of a fear of flying, hit .263 in 1961; and 30-year-old
Enos Slaughter (.300, 130 RBIs), 31-year-old Joe DiMaggio (.290,
25 home runs), 33-year-old Tommy Henrich (.251, 83 RBIs) and
33-year-old Johnny Mize (.337, 22 homers), all of whom excelled
in 1946 after missing three seasons while serving in World War
II. Sandberg remains as fundamentally perfect as any player
today and has added a new element to his game: a smile.
"He has the luxury of walking away from the game and missing it,
like we all did," Lynch says, "but then coming back. The second
time around is a lot sweeter."
So optimistic is Ryne that when he went before McVey last week,
he asked that the children be allowed to travel with him to
Chicago for "big games, big weekends" at Wrigley Field in
September, well after school is back in session. No matter how
McVey ruled, he said he is committed to playing this season.
"This is the way I look at it," says Ryne. "This is not
something I'm going to do forever. I think I can play for three
or four years, but I want to just see what happens this year.
This is what I do. This makes me happy. And I want to share it
with my kids."
The ruling is sealed, but according to Ryne, McVey decided on a
compromise: Ryne gets to take the kids with him during the
season but not as often as he wanted. "Oh, yeah, I'm happy with
it," he said of the judge's decision. "They'll be with me
Opening Day in Chicago. They'll be up for the weekend. They'll
have to miss at least one day of school."
Last Friday, Margaret took all five kids out of school early to
watch Ryne's first exhibition game in nearby Mesa. Ryne drew a
walk and pulled two rockets: one was a line drive out and the
other was a double off the wall. Ryne frequently laughed, smiled
and waved to his new family in the stands behind the backstop.
Margaret stood and hollered even when he fielded a routine
grounder. "She's like that at Little League games," he says.
Ryne left the game after four innings. He showered, dressed and
then stepped out of the clubhouse, saying with a laugh, "This
ought to be fun." He walked through the stands, sat next to his
wife, daughter and stepdaughter and settled in, intending to
watch the rest of the game. Quickly, though, he was engulfed by
autograph seekers, and he left.
The fans trailed him out an exit, along a concourse and through
a parking lot. They squeezed past his family to get to him. Ryne
signed his name until he reached a guarded gate to a practice
field and the players' parking lot, where the small mob was
The game played on in the distance. The girls skipped across the
infield grass. Margaret, after having the gate closed on her
with the rest of the fans, caught up to Ryne. He smiled at the
wonders of spring, looking even more boyish than he ever did in
a tattersall shirt.