Larkin, Santo and the calm before the Cooperstown storm

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Larkin, Santo and the calm before the Cooperstown storm

The Hall of Fame vote is supposed to be all about the past, but its perfect for right now. Its another thing to fill the 247 news cycle. All the crossfire arguments are there for Twitter and talk radio. You have to have a take.

Barry Larkin will share the stage with Ron Santos family. Each player was identified by, and loyal to, one team. Theyll have a place in Cooperstown, N.Y., forever. Consider that non-controversy the calm before the storm.

Mondays election results showed overwhelming support for Larkin, who received 86.4 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. The longtime Cincinnati Reds shortstop will be inducted on July 22, the same day the Cubs will be celebrating Santos life.

The volume will be turned up for the class of 2013, which includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio. By 2014, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be eligible for the first time.

This will be an endless debate, and it will be interesting to see what information comes out between now and then. Look for more voting explanations based on rumors and innuendo, plus more people begging for clarification on the character clause.

Bonds has a legal team appealing his obstruction of justice conviction. Voters wont forget how Clemens starred in the Mitchell Report, or Sosas performance in front of Congress. Schilling and Thomas were two of the most outspoken critics from the steroid era.

Everyone on the ballot is under suspicion on some level because of the period in which they played. This round was another clear rejection of Mark McGwire (19.5 percent) and Rafael Palmeiro (12.6 percent).

Combined those two players linked to performance-enhancing drugs have been on the ballot eight times and have never received more than 24 percent of the vote, nowhere near the 75 percent needed for induction.

Momentum seems to be building for big-game pitcher Jack Morris, who got 66.7 percent of the 573 votes cast (nine were left blank) and still has his 14th and 15th chances left to get into the Hall. The same goes for Jeff Bagwell, who rose from 41.7 percent to 56 percent during his second year on the ballot.

If you have an opinion, its so much easier now to find a platform and shout it out. The explosion of information on the Internet and the growing awareness and understanding of sabermetrics has shifted the way people look at the game.

Perceptions changed about Larkin. In his third year of eligibility, he finished with a vote total that represented a 24.3-percent gain from the 2011 ballot, the largest jump in one year to gain election in more than 60 years.

Larkin, 47, grew up in Cincinnati and was drafted twice by the Reds. In between he played at the University of Michigan where legendary coach Bo Schembechler wanted him on the football team and in the 1984 Olympics.

Larkin lasted 19 seasons with the Reds, helping Lou Piniella and The Nasty Boys win a World Series title in 1990. His resume includes 12 All-Star selections, nine Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves and the 1995 National League MVP award.

This summers Hall of Fame ceremony will also honor two media award winners television analyst Tim McCarver and Toronto Sun writer Bob Elliott along with Santo.

Santo was voted in by a veterans committee last month and his legacy will be front and center at this weekends Cubs Convention. WGN Radios Pat Hughes will host a panel expected to include Santos widow Vicki, son Ron Jr. and former teammates Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley and Billy Williams.

The family didnt want to use the word bittersweet, even though Santos Hall of Fame call came one year after his death. Thats because future generations will be able to go and see the plaque and remember the man.

Larkin was asked the other day what it would mean, but couldnt quite answer the question. Theyre about to find out.

Baseball immortality, Larkin said on the MLB Network. To be recognized as one of the best of all-time (made me think about my) young kids. Theyre out there doing their thing. But 20, 30, 40, 100 years from now, when theyre old and gone, their grandkids (and kids will) always be able to say, Yeah, that guy right there (was) one of the best in the game.

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

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Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping rookie Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch hitting. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field – the playoff matchup the Cubs dreaded in an elimination game – will happen more than seven months later under far different circumstances.

The Cubs have a 2016 championship banner flying next to the iconic center-field scoreboard – the ultimate response to any questions about their slow start to this season. The San Francisco Giants can’t have Madison Bumgarner saunter out of the bullpen when he’s recovering from a dirt-bike accident, another reason why an odd-year team is much closer to last place than first in an improved National League West.

The Giants don’t have the same aura, because the Cubs staged an epic comeback to end a best-of-five division series last October, scoring four runs again five different relievers in the ninth inning at AT&T Park.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,” Joe Maddon said. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again. I’ll get to see him (Tuesday night), but that’s OK, compared to whatever that day would’ve been.”

Maddon has admitted this already, but it is still telling from a manager who always tries to stay in the moment and ignore the negativity. It says something about a Giant franchise that had won 10 straight postseason elimination games and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and a fan base that used to expect things to go wrong in Wrigleyville after more than a century of losing.

“That whole Game 4 in San Francisco, I did focus on that a lot,” Maddon said. “Just trying to understand Game 5 back at home – how this is going to play out – and do whatever we possibly can to win that game there that night in San Francisco.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battle-tested – Game 5, back here with (Cueto) pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought that pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Even though the Cubs still had to survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning their first NL pennant in 71 years. And come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and beat the Cleveland Indians on the road in a 10-inning Game 7 for the ages.

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“That’s what good teams do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented club, very solid all around. You don’t win the World Series unless you are.

“Look back at our success, how many times were we looking at elimination? No, you’re never surprised in the postseason. Anything those teams do, it’s because they’re there for a reason. They’re very good.”

Lester beat Cueto in a 1-0 instant classic when Javier Baez lifted a 3-2 quick pitch into the basket beneath the video ribbon in the left-field bleachers. Cueto kept the Cubs so off-balance in Game 1 that Baez actually walked up to home plate in the eighth inning thinking bunt.

The Giants reacted to that Game 4 meltdown by giving All-Star closer Mark Melancon a four-year, $62 million contract at the winter meetings, trying to fix a bullpen that led the majors with 30 blown saves last season.

“It was close,” Bochy said. “Three outs from taking it to Game 5 with a pretty good pitcher going. We can speculate all we want. There’s no point in that. It didn’t happen.

“But, sure, you look back. That’s how tight that series was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold on. Give them credit – great job coming back. We’re a team that plays very well under pressure, and we did there. Just couldn’t hold on to that ninth inning.”