Ron Santo takes his place in Hall of Fame

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Ron Santo takes his place in Hall of Fame

Updated: 8:15 p.m.

DALLAS There wasnt any middle ground with Ron Santo. It was either joy or agony.

This was the missing piece for Santo and his family and friends. This is where the Cubs believe he belongs, even if the timing was bittersweet.

You wont get any argument from teammates who admired his toughness, or the fans who loved listening to him on the radio, or the kids who benefited from the 60 million he helped raise for juvenile diabetes research.

One year after his death, Santo was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era veterans committee. He received 15 out of 16 votes from the panel, an overwhelming consensus after so many years of frustration.

The choice was revealed on Monday at the winter meetings, inside a Hilton Anatole ballroom. Back in Arizona, Santos widow Vicki could imagine him on the couch pumping his fist.

We dared to dream this because it was so important to Ron and such a long time coming, Vicki said. Im just a believer in what was meant to be. Unfortunately, it didnt happen during his lifetime. But this is going to continue his legacy.

Santos retired No. 10 flies at Wrigley Field, and he was resigned to that being his Hall of Fame. This time he needed 12 votes for induction Jim Kaat (10), Gil Hodges (nine) and Minnie Minoso (nine) were among the nine who were denied.

Billy Williams a great friend and teammate since Double-A ball in San Antonio, where they drew the eye of Rogers Hornsby in 1959 emerged as a leading voice on the committee. Their statues face each other outside Wrigley Field. Now Santos place in Cooperstown is also secure.

I think he would click his heels, Williams said. I know that he would rejoice. He was the kind of guy (who) was real high and real low. (Hed) really rejoice on the good things, (but) when he didnt do so well, hed get too down on himself (and) beat himself (up) in the clubhouse.

But I think after the news (today hed) say, Jesus Christ, I waited a long time, but now I made it. Im just going to enjoy it. Hed probably have a glass of red wine.

A nine-time All-Star, Santo could match almost anyone from his era. During his 15-year playing career (1960-1974), only Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Williams also reached 2,000 hits, 300 homers and 1,300 RBI.

It was long overdue and thats why its bittersweet, said Andre Dawson, who was on the ballot nine times before getting into Cooperstown. Ronnie and I just always talked about the Hall of Fame and the battles that he would have, how his perspective on life had changed and how through all of this he was still able to be so humble.

Besides Santo, Mike Schmidt is the only other third baseman to have more than 300 homers and five Gold Gloves. Yet the Baseball Writers Association of America was never really impressed, giving him between 3.9 and 43.1 percent of the vote during his 15 years on the ballot.

Ive been pulling for him for a long time, said Brooks Robinson, another Hall of Fame third baseman. I really couldnt quite figure it out why he hadnt gotten in through the writers.

I asked a few guys on our committee and youd always hear things about how (the Cubs) never won, which might be a part of it. Clicking his heels might be a part of it and you have three guys off his team in the Hall of Fame and they werent putting anyone else in.

Who knows? He certainly has the statistics to stack up against anyone in the Hall of Fame.

In the final analysis, Williams said Santos off-the-field contributions influenced the committee. Santo promoted the game for 21 seasons on WGN, Cubs fans laughing and groaning along with him on the radio. He also became a tireless fundraiser and inspiration for those with diabetes.

Sometimes were measured by what we do off the field, Williams said. This is what Im most proud of (beyond) all those numbers he put up on the board: He never did complain. (He) went out and played the game as it should be played.

Linda Brown, Santos daughter, didnt want to use the word bittersweet, because now his grandchildren will have a place to visit, to see what he meant to so many people.

Santo didnt stop when his legs were amputated years ago. He died at the age of 70 on Dec. 3, 2010, in an Arizona hospital from complications with bladder cancer. There is some symbolism in how the final chapter was written.

The class of 2012 will be inducted on July 22, and theyll be telling their favorite Santo stories all over again.

It was always his dream, Vicki said. To even have it come after his passing, it just shows you cant give up. And thats what Ron was all about.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."