Cubs make Hall of Fame case for Santo

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Cubs make Hall of Fame case for Santo

Ron Santos legacy is three-dimensional, but Cubs people still feel its incomplete.

They missed seeing him on a golf cart, holding court in spring training. They wondered what he would have sounded like on the air last season watching this team. They still enjoy telling Santo stories, some of which can actually appear in print.

The Hall of Fame remains the missing piece.

One year after his death, Santo is one of 10 Golden Era candidates being discussed this weekend in Dallas. To be enshrined in Cooperstown, Santo needs 12 votes from the 16-man committee. The final decisions will be revealed Monday morning at the winter meetings.

Quietly, the Cubs have been lobbying for Santo, reaching out to the Hall of Famers, executives and journalists who make up the panel. There is some optimism because Billy Williams will be one of the voters in the room.

Williams and Santo were great friends and teammates, going all the way back to Double-A ball in San Antonio, where Cubs instructor Rogers Hornsby gave them the stamp of approval. Their statues now face each other outside Wrigley Field.

Ron belongs in the Hall of Fame, chairman Tom Ricketts said. Were doing what we can to get that message out to people that have the power to make that decision and were hopeful that theyll see it that way.

The Golden Era candidates were defined by making a major impact between 1947 and 1972. The other candidates for the class of 2012 are Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Allie Reynolds and Ken Boyer, along with executives Buzzie Bavasi and Charlie Finley.

The Cubs position Santo as one of the best of his era. During his 15-year playing career (1960-1974), only three other players also reached 2,000 hits, 300 homers and 1,300 RBIs: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Williams. In that time, his 1,331 RBI rank fifth. The entire top 10 except for Santo is in the Hall of Fame.

The Cubs point out that Santo is one of two third basemen to have more than 300 homers and five Gold Gloves. Mike Schmidt is the other, and he got into Cooperstown his first year on the ballot, with almost 97 percent of the vote.

The Cubs also say that Santos contributions go beyond the field. He connected with fans as the voice of summer for 21 seasons on WGN Radio. He also helped raise more than 60 million for juvenile diabetes research.

Santo never got to experience the playoffs or author a signature World Series moment that would have helped his cause. He also never received more than 44 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America during his 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Santos Hall of Fame teammates Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins believe he belongs there. He didnt want people to know he played through diabetes, a condition that led to his legs being amputated later in life.

He was the backbone of the Chicago Cubs, Jenkins said last summer. Day in and day out, No. 10 was going to be on that field.

Even though they came from different generations, todays players respected Santo. They saw him on the planes and buses and in the clubhouse. They appreciated how he gritted through the travel and never complained or made excuses.

Santo and the people around him have been through this before. Theyve gotten their hopes up only to be disappointed. The Cubs are hoping this is it, even if it would be a year too late.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."