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Wait is worth it for Ryne

Ryne Sandberg's combination of power, defense and consistency made him the best second baseman of his era and finally landed the former Cubs star in the Hall of Fame.

Sandberg was elected Tuesday in his third year on the ballot. The 1984 National League MVP was picked by 393 voters and appeared on 76.2 percent of ballots, just above the 75 percent cutoff.

"It was one of the more incredible phone calls I've ever received," Sandberg said. "It came a little earlier than I expected and it caught me a little off guard, but total elation set in shortly after that."

In his first year on the ballot, Sandberg received 244 votes (49.2 percent). He earned 309 votes (61.1 percent) last year.

Sandberg said he wasn't bothered about having to wait.

"I learned a long time ago that there are no guarantees in baseball," he said. "There have been some tremendous, tremendous players that have waited longer than I had to wait to get into the Hall of Fame. I don't think it's ever too late, and it doesn't diminish the honor at all. You're either in the Hall of Fame or you're not, and I'm just very happy today."

Sandberg, 45, was virtually a throw-in in one of the most lopsided trades of all time. On Jan. 27, 1982, the Phillies sent Sandberg, who had six big-league at-bats, and veteran shortstop Larry Bowa to the Cubs for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. DeJesus batted .249 in three seasons with Philadelphia, while Sandberg went on to redefine his position.

Sandberg, who spent the rest of his career in Chicago, was a 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner. He has the highest fielding percentage among second basemen at .989, and his 277 homers at the position of his 282 overall were the most by a second baseman at the time of his retirement.

"I think defense had everything to do with me getting into the Hall of Fame. I think my defense was what helped me break into the majors," he said. "I earned the everyday job at the age of 22 as the starting third baseman, and my defense kept me in. I started my rookie year (1-for-32). But my defense was solid, and it kept me in there."

CONTRACT NIXED: Pitcher Jeff Zimmerman's minor-league contract with the Rangers was rejected by the commissioner's office.

Texas agreed to the deal Dec. 21, but when the Rangers didn't offer Zimmerman salary arbitration Dec. 7, they became ineligible to sign the right-handed reliever until May 1.

Rangers spokesman Gregg Elkin said the team expects to be able to sign Zimmerman to a minor-league contract before spring training. When spring training starts, a team can ask the other 29 clubs to allow it to re-sign a former player to a minor-league deal.

PONSON FREE: Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson was released from jail after being held for a week while police investigated allegations he punched a judge on a beach in Aruba. Prosecutors told a judge they would not oppose Ponson's release as he awaits trial, the daily La Prensa reported.

DODGERS: Left-hander Odalis Perez agreed to re-sign with Los Angeles, tentatively coming to terms on a $24-million, three-year contract. Outfielder Milton Bradley re-signed to a one-year contract.

MARINERS: Shortstop Pokey Reese agreed to a $1.2-million, one-year contract with a club option that could make it worth $4.45-million over two seasons.

NATIONALS: The team will return to familiar Montreal Expos surroundings when it opens its spring training schedule against the Mets on March 2 in Viera.

TIGERS: Free-agent infielder Ramon Martinez agreed to a one-year contract.

OBITUARY: John D. "Jack" Sanford, a Washington Senators first baseman for three seasons in the 1940s, died of cardiac and respiratory arrest in Greensboro, N.C. He was 88.

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