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SLUMP-RIDDEN SANDBERG WILL HANG UP HIS GLOVE

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Slump-ridden Ryne Sandberg, the Chicago Cubs' nine-time Gold Glove winner widely considered the best second baseman of his era, will retire today, according to WGN radio.

WGN, which broadcasts the team's games, reported this morning that Sandberg, 1984 National League MVP, told Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo he would retire immediately. Santo said Sandberg told him the decision was based on more than baseball, but did not elaborate.The 34-year-old Sandberg, who has has only one hit in his last 28 at-bats, was benched over the weekend by manager Tom Trebel-horn. It was done, according to Trebelhorn, to give Sandberg time to reflect on the slump.

Trebelhorn called the decision "surprising," but said he was not at liberty to comment further.

Sandberg, whose .309 average in 1993 was the second-best of his 13-year major league career, is hitting .238 with five home runs and 24 RBI. His lowest batting average prior to this year was .261. He entered this season with a .290 career average.

Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said the news came as "an absolute shock." He said Sandberg had been struggling, but did not seem down.

"I'm shocked by it, I'm saddened by it, and I know there's got to be more to it," Grace said.

Catcher Rick Wilkins also was caught off guard.

"He never would show you his emotions, whether he was angry or happy," Wilkins said. "He was very introverted. He just went about his business every day to himself. It's just a shock. I'm caught totally by surprise."

Sandberg is the only second baseman to win nine Gold Gloves, his last in 1991.

Sandberg has been with the Cubs since 1982, when he was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. He signed a contract last year for $28 million. That contract runs through the 1996 season with an option for 1997.

In 1984, Sandberg hit 19 homers, drove in 84 runs and stole 32 bases to lead the Cubs to the NL playoffs. It was their first postseason appearance since 1945.

In 1989, Sandberg batted .290, tied for the league lead with 104 runs scored and hit 30 homers as the Cubs won the NL East.

Sandberg, who also led the league in runs scored in 1984 and 1990, reached the 100 mark seven times.

He has played in 10 All-Star games. His 240 home runs at second base is the fourth-highest total for a player at that position.