Frankie O: Santo was one of the good guys

Frankie O: Santo was one of the good guys

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
2:37 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

No matter the circumstance, the news always comes as a surprise. I was driving into work on Friday. My morning had, until I turned on my radio, been focused on my thoughts and emotions brought about from watching the movie "The Road" the night before. The movie, adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, was set in a post-apocalyptic world. It told the story of a father and son and their quest for survival. The world in which they lived was bleak and dangerous and seemingly devoid of anything positive. I found it to be haunting and mesmerizing. It brought out every joy and fear that you could have as a parent. During their journey, when the son was questioning the father on why they carried on, the father explained that they were the "good guys" and hopefully would find others that were "carrying the fire" in their hearts. As I learned the news of Ron Santo's passing on Friday morning I found it sad and ironic. If anyone was carrying the fire, it was Ronnie.

Although I had never met him, I, like millions of others, felt I knew him very well. This came from the fact that I had listened to him and Pat Hughes on Cubs radio broadcasts for countless hours since I moved to Chicago. He had the ability to connect to anyone listening because of the undeniable emotion that was behind everything that he said. He broadcast many games that might not have been really important in the scheme of things, but you could never tell by listening to him.

Of course when I got to work, there was only one topic for the day, and like the man himself, the conversations brought a wide degree of emotions. The first response, almost to a person, was that it was a shame that he did not get into the Hall of Fame while he was alive. For what seems like forever, he carried the unwanted designation of being one of the best players, if not the best, not in the Hall. The argument, for or against, is a popular one among hard-core baseball fans. Although where I work, you can guess what the overwhelming consensus is. The slight is one that a lot of us can't figure out. There are reasons that the baseball writers did not vote for him, nor in recent years the veterans committee, but no one seems to want to share them. His very public emotions in dealing with this are something that endeared him to many. To be thisclose to your dream and have it denied would be heartbreaking to anyone, that he dealt with it with class was a measure of who he was. In fact, some would say, it was this bitter disappointment and the ability to get back up and dust himself off and carry on, thinking tomorrow would be better, that made him the ultimate Cub. He was nothing but a reflection of a franchise that has known its share of disappointments for the last 102 years.

But for me, I always get back to one thing: That everything that he accomplished was as a diabetic. He dealt with this disease for most of his life in a time when it was not as, for lack of a better word, easy, as it is now. In fact, it is very celebrated, that for years he tried to hide it from the team. You would think that having to deal with something like that EVERYDAY would instill in a person an understanding of what truly is important in life. That would be measured in the 60 million dollars he raised through his juvenile diabetes foundation and the untold hours he spent helping others sharing his same plight. I would hope that all of us would want to give back and help others during the course of our lives. Ronnie was someone who lived this every day.

I always wondered why someone like this wouldn't make the Hall of Fame a better place. Why a complete measure of HOW and WHAT he accomplished as a player was taken into account. (Much the same as I felt when Buck O'Neil was excluded for his lifetime of contributions.) But ultimately it was not his lot and something that saddens me and many I talk to. What is more important though is it did not keep him from having a tremendous impact with his life. He will be remembered for being one of the best players of his generation. He will be remembered for having a passion for the Cubs that was shared with us all as he provided a soundtrack for our summer. He will be remembered for having a cause and fighting for more than just himself. And for me, most of all, he will be remembered for carrying the fire. Ron Santo was one of the good guys.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]  

On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”