I remember where I was with crystal clear clarity on June 23, 1984 when one of the greatest offensive performances in Chicago Cubs history occurred in a nationally televised game between the Cubs and Cardinals.
I was at Wrigley Field as a beer vendor and I knew that on a gorgeous summer day with the Cardinals in town, a capacity crowd would be buying a lot of beer.
My love for sports made being a vendor the perfect summer job because I could watch baseball on both sides of town and I could make good money. However, there were days like that Saturday that I couldn’t concentrate on beer sales because the game was so compelling. And sports was way higher than beer sales on my priority list for the direction where I wanted my life to go.
As that game began, the Cubs were in third place in the National League’s East division, but they were a surprising 1.5 games behind the division-leading Mets after struggling throughout much of spring. That put the game on national TV into more spotlight than had been expected when the season began.
The Cubs trailed the Cardinals 7-1 in the bottom of the 5th and 9-3 in the bottom of the 6th before their offense kicked it into gear and got the Cubs back into the game. However, the Cubs headed into the bottom of the 9th trailing the Cards 9-8 and they were facing Hall of Fameer Bruce Sutter, one of the best closers in the history of the game.
Ryne Sandberg led off with a home run to tie the game, but that was just a prelude to what he would do in the 10th inning. The Redbirds scored twice off of Cubs all-star reliever Lee Smith in the top of the 10th to make the score 11-9 and with Sutter still in the game, it seemed certain the Cubs would lose a tough one.
However, if the Cubs could get a man on, Sandberg would bat again. Bob Dernier walked on a very close pitch to give the Cubs second baseman another chance.
Sandberg did the unthinkable, taking Sutter deep again and tying the game at 11, sending Wrigley into a frenzy. When the Cubs finally won the game on a Dave Owen base hit in the bottom of the 11th it was almost anticlimactic because all anyone wanted to talk about was “The Sandberg Game” after he went 5-for-6 with 7 RBI and the two dramatic homers off of Sutter.
So what was the greatest individual offensive performance by a Cub in my lifetime?
Here are my five best Cubs individual offensive performances ranked in order:
1) Ryne Sandberg (June 23, 1984): 5-for-6 with 2 HRs and 7 RBI vs St. Louis Cardinals
2) Kris Bryant (June 27, 2016): 5-for-5 with 3 HRs and 2 2Bs vs Cincinnati Reds
Bryant went 5-for-5 with 6 RBI and became the first player in baseball's modern era (dating back to 1913) to hit three home runs and two doubles in the same game.
He also set a Cubs franchise record with 16 total bases, as the Cubs beat the Reds 11-8 in Cincinnati. It was the first 3-HR game of Bryant's career. He was named the 2016 National League MVP at the conclusion of that season. He also helped lead the Cubs to a World Series title, the franchise's first in 108 years.
3) Dave Kingman (May 14, 1978): 4-for-7 with 3 HRs and 8 RBI vs Los Angeles Dodgers
A performance that drove Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda to go on a profanity-laden tirade after he was asked to give his opinion on Kingman's performance in the Cubs' 15-inning victory at Dodger Stadium. King Kong smashed 3 home runs, including a game-tying blast in the 9th and a game-winner in the 15th.
4) Tuffy Rhodes (April 4, 1994): 4-for-4 with 3 HRs (all off of Dwight Gooden) vs. New York Mets
Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes became a Cubs legend when he belted 3 home runs on Opening Day, all off of New York Mets superstar pitcher Dwight "Doc" Gooden. Rhodes never became a household name in the majors, but he did become a home-run-hitting superstar during a 13 year career in Japan's professional ranks.
5. Sammy Sosa (August 10, 2002): 3-for-4 with 3 HRs and 9 RBI vs. Colorado Rockies
Slammin' Sammy crushed three 3 run home runs in just 5 innings in the Cubs' 15-1 mauling of the Colorado Rockies. He was pulled from the game with the Cubs well in control, denying him a shot at a four home run game.
Kyle Schwarber (July 21, 2015 vs Cincinnati Reds): 4-for-7, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI — game-tying HR in 9th and game-winning HR in 13th
Andre Dawson (August 1, 1987 vs Philadelphia Phillies): 3-for-4, 3 HRs, 5 RBI
Willson Contreras (May 11, 2018 vs Chicago White Sox): 4-for-5, 2 2Bs, 2 HRs, 7 RBI
Starlin Castro (May 7, 2010 vs Cincinnati Reds): 2-for-5, 3B, HR, 6 RBI
George Mitterwald (April 17, 1974 vs Pittsburgh Pirates): 4-for-4 2B, 3 HRs, BB, 8 RBI