Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

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Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
7:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

If it is only a game, and just a baseball team, then why did Ron Santo believe it kept him alive all these years?

Santo meant more to people around Chicago than an All-Star third baseman or a radio announcer should. But there may never be a more unique match between athlete, city and team.

You noticed it with the small, spontaneous gestures around Wrigley Field, the We love you Ron messages at Gate G, the chalkboard outside a Clark Street bar that simply read 10 You will be missed.

You could see that on the weeping faces at Holy Name Cathedral, where one flower arrangement at the altar formed the Cubs logo. It was a kind of religion for Santo, an addictive mixture of faith, optimism and frustration that he shared with fans who never met him but still felt like they knew him.

Sun hit the stained-glass windows Friday as Santos extended family gathered beneath the arched ceilings of the big Catholic church on State Street. They celebrated the unbelievable life of Santo, who died last week at the age of 70 from complications with bladder cancer.

Monsignor Dan Mayall woke up that morning and injected himself with insulin. As a boy, he played catch with a Wilson 2170 glove that had Santos named inscribed on it.

The ballplayer became a hero when Mayall, at the age of 19, learned he had diabetes, and realized there was someone else showing you can live well with the disease.

If we miss him now, wait until we turn on the radio for that first pitch in Mesa in March, Mayall said. Ron Santo is the poster boy for joy. Ron Santo had an overdose of hope. Ron Santo lived on courage.

Santos old teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert served as pallbearers and helped wheel the casket down the aisle. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and WGN Radios Pat Hughes gave eulogies at a service carried live on television.

Ron was so in touch with the fan base that at times he can describe what was happening on the field without using actual words at all, Ricketts said. Every moan and groan, every shout for joy, we knew exactly, exactly what Ron was saying. Ron was truly the beating heart of Chicago Cubs fans.

An example to others

That pulse drew many Cubs employees to the funeral, from the stadium workers to general manager Jim Hendry to manager Mike Quade to team president Crane Kenney.

Current and former players were scattered throughout the pews: Ryne Sandberg; Gary Matthews Sr.; Ryan Dempster; Ted Lilly; Kerry Wood; Sean Marshall; Tom Gorzelanny; and Koyie Hill.

Broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly along with the radio and television crews that produce the games paid their respects. So did Sen. Richard Durbin and Jesse Jackson. But Santo wasnt defined by famous friends.

Hughes explained how Santo shrunk the distance from his audience. Santo, who lost both his legs, would meet amputees and give them the names and numbers for prosthetics professionals. He would read his fan mail before games and call complete strangers.

Ron Santo had time for everybody, Hughes said. Parents of diabetic kids would bring their children into the booth and Ronnie would just say, Hang in there, kid!

You got to watch your diet. You got to watch your blood sugars. Listen to your doctors. Youll be ok. Youll live a good life. I have so can you. And the kid would always walk away feeling a little bit better.

Hughes, a graceful, gifted storyteller with a smooth voice and an eye for details, breezed through an 18-minute eulogy that filled the room with laughter. At times, hanging with Santo must have felt like being in a Seinfeld episode.

It didnt matter if you heard it before Hughes was rolling with stories about his partner for 15 years. There was the time they stood up for the national anthem at Shea Stadium and Santos toupee caught on fire when it touched an overhead heater. So Hughes dumped water all over it.

There was the yogurt machine at a media dining room in Phoenix with specific instructions that Santo ignored: Do not turn on until game time. As the yogurt kept pouring out and would not stop, Hughes said, Ronnie did what any true seventh-grader would have done he ran away.

When the Cubs retired his No. 10 an honor he considered his own Hall of Fame induction the state of Illinois declared Sept. 28, 2003 to be Ron Santo Day. The proclamation came on a fancy piece of paper that resembled a college degree.

Santo had it up in the booth and proceeded to spill eggs and coffee all over it, before reaching to grab it as a napkin. There was a boyish quality to him even as he became a grandfather.

I would just like to ask you a favor, Hughes said. However you remember him, please do so with a big smile on your face. He would have liked that very much.

A voice that cannot be replaced

Santo could be as sweet as the candy bars the trainer used to keep on the bench whenever he needed a boost to fight the condition he kept secret. He succeeded in his post-playing career without the malice or cynicism often found in modern media.

The teams next radio analyst wont be able to get away with the same mistakes on air, and future Cubs managers wont have to console him after losses like Jim Riggleman and Lou Piniella once did.

Santo was a character with a style all his own. Wood remembers sitting down with him a few seasons ago for an interview before a game in Houston.

He started out: Im here with Chicago Cubs pitcher and he just got locked up, Wood recalled. It was early in the morning and he had a cocktail or two the night before. I (go): Ron, its been 10 years. So he starts over, gets the name right, and then he says, Here in Cincinnati...

But the connection to the players he rooted for so hard became so strong that after clinching a 2003 playoff series win in Atlanta, Wood made a point to call Santo from a hallway outside the clubhouse before he could begin popping champagne.

At once Santos legacy is both simple and complex. Some never saw the player who won five Gold Gloves and only heard him on the radio. Others argue that he should be in Cooperstown. Everyone can respect the more than 40 million he helped raise for diabetes research.

In the end, Santo approached everything with the determination Hughes described in this scene: To climb up the steps of the team's charter jet, Santo would grab the rail with his left hand, use the walking cane in his right and bounce up into the cabin.

John McDonough the Blackhawks president and former Cubs executive who helped make Santo a radio star read from the Bible a passage (2 Timothy 4:6-9) that captured a man seemingly without regrets. There will never be another Ron Santo.

The time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Never say die: Cubs battle back for wild walk-off win over Pirates

Never say die: Cubs battle back for wild walk-off win over Pirates

It would have been so easy for the Cubs to just chalk this one up as a loss and head home.

But this 2016 Cubs team isn't built that way.

They showed what they're made of again Monday, walking off the Pirates, 8-7, in front of 38,951 fans at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had plenty of chances to score all game, including in extra innings as Javy Baez was thrown out at home plate to end both the 10th and 12th innings.

In the top of the 13th, the Pirates finally broke through, loading the bases with nobody out against Rob Zastryzny and scoring a run — but only one run.

In the bottom of the 13th, the Cubs got their offense going again as Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant led the inning off with singles to put runners at the corners. Anthony Rizzo then singled through the infield to tie the game and drive home Fowler.

Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out, setting the stage for Miguel Montero's walk-off single to start the Cubs' homestand off on a positive note and send Zastryzny home with his first MLB victory.

It capped off a game in which almost 465 pitches were thrown and took more than five hours to complete.

"We got in late last night," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I got back about 3 a.m. So these guys — they're coming off West Coast to the Central Time Zone, they're tired, we had to show up today early for a picture — that happens sometimes — and they came out and played until Midnight.

"Of course you want to win that game. That's a tough game to lose. But understand the effort that you saw tonight based on a lot of fatigue. And that's probably what I'm most proud of."

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The Cubs opened up a 3-0 lead on Pirates rookie starter Steven Brault early, but they could have easily had more, narrowly missing home runs in the first (Zobrist) and third innings (Jorge Soler).

The Pirates, meanwhile, came roaring back against Jake Arrieta. 

First, Josh Bell hit a solo homer just over the basket in left field in the fourth inning. Then Gregory Polanco deposited a three-run shot down the left-field line in the sixth inning, two batters after it appeared the Cubs had gotten a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play. Home plate umpire Tripp Gibson disagreed, calling the pitch Ball 4 to Bell and putting two runners on with nobody out instead of two outs and nobody on. Arrieta was irate, staring down the umpire and prompting a visit from Maddon, who proceeded to get in Gibson's face at the base of the mound after calming down Arrieta.

"That's an entirely different baseball game right there that occurred on that particular pitch," Maddon said. "Everything turned on that particluar pitch.

"But I'm not gonna denigrate the umpire. We had plenty of opportunities — PLENTY — to win that game in a normal fashion or earlier. We had so many great at-bats to set it up and then we could not seal the deal."

Arrieta was also saddled with a pair of runs in the seventh inning, with Travis Wood letting two inherited runners score on Josh Harrison's two-out double to make it a 6-3 Pirates lead.

The reigning NL Cy Young winner finished with a tough-luck line that flashed six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on five hits and three walks.

Then the Cubs began their comeback.

In the eighth, Jason Heyward doubled and Willson Contreras homered to straightaway center.

With one out in the ninth, Soler sent a charge into Tony Watson's offering to tie the game with a blast to center.

That set up Montero for the storybook ending.

"The resiliency of our team is incredible," Arrieta said. "That's what you need down the stretch. ... Just a crazy ballgame all the way around."

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Joe Maddon has been trying to find a chance to give Kris Bryant a day off.

But how do you sit the hottest hitter on the planet?

Bryant just finished a torrid road trip in which he staked his claim to the National League MVP Award by hitting .417 with a 1.365 OPS, five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in nine games. 

That pushed his season line to .305/.398/.588 (.986 OPS) with a league-leading 35 homers and 107 runs plus 89 RBIs.

So is he the Most Valuable Player in just his second season in "The Show"?

"I don't want to get too wrapped up in individual awards," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He's an outstanding player having a great year. It's never too early.

"(Red Sox second baseman) Dustin Pedroia is another guy we drafted over a decade ago and he did the same thing — Rookie of the Year in the first year and then MVP the next year. It can be done.

"(Bryant is) helping us win in so many different ways. Obviously coming up big of late, which is great to see. He deserves all the accolades that are coming his way and that may eventually come his way.

"But I think he'd probably be the first one to tell you he wants the team awards; he wants the team recognition in the end. The only one that really counts is winning your last game and the parade. Everything else is nice to fill the trophy case, but that's what everyone here is all about."

Bryant will undoubtedly split some MVP votes with teammate Anthony Rizzo (.946 OPS, 25 home runs, 89 RBIs), but the Cubs third baseman/outfielder woke up Monday morning leading all of baseball in WAR on FanGraphs' page.

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Even the Cubs admit Bryant has progressed beyond their realistic expectations.

"I would never have held him to this standard," Epstein said. "I wouldn't say, 'This is his development path. He's gotta go be maybe the Most Valuable Player in the league in the second year.' But at the same time, it doesn't surprise me.

"He's always been outstanding at making adjustments. Very cerebral player. Makes great use of his down time, whether it's the winter where he can work on swing adjustments or even the time between at-bats or pitch-to-pitch. He's just really, really good at making adjustments and thinks about his own game at a really high level.

"He's such a good athlete, he's able to take it right out on the field."

Bryant has also surprised Epstein and the Cubs with how he's evolved as a player.

"In some ways, surprising," Epstein said. "I thought he would always hit five to 10 opposite field home runs a year at a minimum, and he hasn't this year — that was his first one of the year the other day at Dodger Stadium.

"But he's added the ability to turn on the inside pitch and hit it in the air and keep it fair, so he's hitting more home runs as a result. So I never saw that coming.

"It's interesting the way his swing and his game have evolved."

In discussing the difference between 2016 Bryant and the rookie model, Maddon pointed to a decrease in strikeouts (from 30.6 percent in 2015 to 22 percent) and a smoother product on defense.

"The biggest for me is consistently shorter swing. More contact," Maddon said. "He's had smaller windows of chasing pitches out of the strike zone compared to last year when he did it more often.

"But recently, he's been using the outfield gap, which is really impressive. So offensively, that's what I'm seeing. Defensively, better feet on the infield.

"You'd see a lot of the patting of the glove as the feet were moving. I see it on occasion now, but not to the extent I saw it last year. He's still a great baserunner.

"So primarily — shorter hack, greater contact, less chase, right central is coming back into play right now and better feet on defense. That's what I'm seeing."

Put it all together and you have an MVP frontrunner entering September.

With season's final month looming, Cubs will apply lessons learned from 2015 playoff run

With season's final month looming, Cubs will apply lessons learned from 2015 playoff run

What a difference a year makes.

Last season, the Cubs put the pedal to the metal in advance of a four-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field in August and never looked back until they ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the NLCS.

This season, with another four-game set with the Giants at the "Friendly Confines" on tap this week, the Cubs are in a completely different position.

There is no need for Joe Maddon to step on the gas and floor it into the postseason.

The Cubs entered play Monday 14 games up in the NL Central and they've already started counting down their magic number before the calendar has even flipped to September.

This year, it's going to be about rest and keeping guys sharp and fresh entering October, which the Cubs learned is key after last season.

Right now, the Cubs don't need to lean on Jake Arrieta to come close to a complete game each time out or utilize relievers on three straight nights in tight ballgames.

"I think our guys understand where we're at and it's going to be important to get where we want to go to be at their best," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday at Wrigley. "Last year's stretch and playoffs especially was instructive.

"I think we pushed guys hard during the year and it'd be nice for them to be at their absolute best during the most important time of year down the stretch and hopefully into October."

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The Cubs also have some reinforcements on the way with rosters expanding to 40 players Thursday.

Tommy La Stella continues to work out in the minor leagues and Epstein acknowledged Monday the left-handed role player could be back in Chicago as soon as this week.

"The guys coming up will get some playing time," Maddon said. "I've always talked about in a bad game or even in a really good game, to get guys off their feet, that's important.

"Whoever we're going to bring up right now, they're going to be pertinent people that are going to help us win also right now."

Hector Rondon (triceps) and Pedro Strop (knee) are progressing "really well," Maddon said, with Rondon nearing a return while Strop threw in Chicago during the Cubs' recent road trip and reported no issues. 

"We're just trying to really play it smart, not push them to come back too quickly," Maddon said. "But they're both making great progress."

John Lackey (strained shoulder) is slated to throw a pair of bullpens this week and could return from the disabled list on the current homestand if all goes well.

When Lackey does come back, the Cubs could keep Mike Montgomery as a starter and go with a six-man rotation to keep everybody fresher down the stretch.

With all the rest in mind, Maddon isn't worried about his players getting rusty or losing their edge at all.

[RELATED: With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?]

Maddon admitted he's never been in a position like this where the Cubs are close to locking up a playoff spot and still have a month to play. But he compared the idea of taking the foot off the gas to the same way teams handle pitchers at the end of spring training before the regular season starts.

"You're trying to conserve their moments for the most important time of the year," Maddon said. "Regardless of any kind of pushback you might get from the players themselves, I still think you can do it and control it and not worry about the rust component.

"I think by this time of year, rest in a more intelligent manner - limiting innings or number of pitches thrown - I don't think that's going to cause a negative downturn in their abilities by the end of September."

Of course, just because the Cubs are prioritizing rest doesn't mean they're going to take their foot off the gas completely.

Epstein, Lackey and Jon Lester saw firsthand how quickly a large lead can evaporate with the 2011 Boston Red Sox

"I think once you go through a year in which you have a double digit lead right before Labor Day and screw it up and don't even get into October, you don't take anything for granted," Epstein said. "I guess that's the only good thing to come out of September 2011 for me - I'll never look too far ahead and I'll never take anything for granted.

"You have to have a broad perspective and look ahead and understand what might lie ahead, but you have to go earn it. That's been our team's approach from the very beginning - not to accept some of the praise that's come our way. It's to go out and try to earn it with our play and that's definitely true in the month of September."