Ron Santo's legacy will live on

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Ron Santo's legacy will live on

Billy Williams called Dec. 5, 2011 a great moment. He may as well have been speaking for the entire Cubs fan base.

That was the day Ron Santo was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it came roughly a year after the Cubs icon died.

"I was elated," Vicki Santo, Ron's wife, said Saturday. "The whole family was elated. Everybody says it's too bad he wasn't here and yes, it is. But this is the way it was meant to be.

"He worked his whole life towards his accomplishments so that he could he belong in Cooperstown...This is going to carry his legacy further."

Pat Hughes, the MC of the "Ron Santo: Beyond the Game" session at the 2012 Cubs Convention, kicked things off by asking how each member of the panel -- comprised of Vicki and Ron's son, Ron Jr., as well as former teammates Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley -- felt when they heard the news of Ron's induction into the Hall of Fame.

"This is something that he waited for so long," Ron, Jr., said. "Certainly, we would love to have had him here. Right when Vicki called me to tell me, I pictured his face and how he would react.

"I'm just relieved that it finally happened."

Hughes recounted how Ron's face would always light up like a little boy's when he was happy. That was the image that flashed through the head of Santo's former broadcast partner for almost 30 years.

"Ronnie would have been happier than anybody ever voted in," Hughes said. "This refocuses everybody on his playing career. Of what he was as a ballplayer. I think that's a very cool thing."

Hundley, Santo's teammate for eight seasons in Chicago, said he would head over to the Santo residence every year around the Hall of Fame voting up until five years ago.

"I think this worked out in the best way. He would have had a heart attack, Hundley joked.

"Every time I talked to him on the phone, I told him I loved him. I do love him. I'm proud of his career and finally getting elected into the Hall of Fame. It's well deserved."

Williams, who played over 2,000 games alongside the star third baseman, was on the Golden Era committee that voted Santo in with 15 of a possible 16 votes.

"Ron Santo: Hall of Famer. That sounds good, don't it?" he said. "I always told him 'this is the year.' And it finally came."

The panel discussed Santo's contributions on the field and in the broadcast booth, but made special mention of his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

He played his entire career with Type I diabetes, back when there was little known about the condition. The disease eventually took both legs, but it never took his spirit.

"You wonder how he did it," Williams said. "But he was so gung-ho to play baseball. He loved the game."

Santo put up great numbers while playing with the debilitating disease during baseball's true "Golden Era" of talent. But his personality was truly worthy of the Hall of Fame.

There were laughs all around as fans joined Santo's family and friends in recounting stories from his life.

Beckert was Santos roommate for a number of years and told a story about how the Cubs were on the road in Philadelphia in the late 60s when Santo hit a three-run homer.

"As he reaches home plate, the stands erupt," Beckert recalled. "All the fans stood up and applauded. And Santo said to me 'Rooms, I have never had this happen in my entire career where I'm on the visiting team and being cheered like that.' And I said 'Rooms, forget about it. Look at the scoreboard: Man just walked on the moon."

Vicki compared marriage with Ron to living out episodes of "Seinfeld and shared her favorite story of the Cubs legend. The two had recently gotten an extensive cable makeover at their Arizona home.

"So the guy leaves and not too long after, I hear Ronnie making a commotion because the remote wouldn't work," Vicki said. "I went in there and he's pointing the phone at the TV, hammering away on the buttons."

There were emotional discussions about Santo's desire to spend time with fans, especially fellow amputees. He constantly took time out of his day to give new amputees advice and insight on how to deal post-operative.

"It was really impressive," Hughes said. "He wouldn't just take two or three minutes. It was always 15 or 20 minutes. I saw that all the time."

Stories of Ron Santo will be told at the corner of Clark and Addison for generations to come. The Hall of Fame induction is just icing on the cake. An indication of all he meant to the game.

"Ronnie wasn't just a baseball player," Williams said. "He was a friend. I know right now, he's enjoying it. I don't think he's clicking his heels, though."

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – There will never be another Vin Scully, who joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn as a kid out of Fordham University, moved to Los Angeles and became a face of the franchise, doing the one-man show that still connects and entertains generations of baseball fans.

The Cubs paid their respects to the legendary broadcaster before Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, with manager Joe Maddon and catcher David Ross visiting the Vin Scully Press Box for another photo op before the lyrical voice retires at the end of this season, at the age of 88.

“You’re ascending into the clouds to meet Mr. Scully,” Maddon said. “That’s like the window to the world up there when you sit in his booth and he talks about the purple mountain majesties on a clear day beyond the outfield fences here.”

The Cubs presented Scully with a green “67” scoreboard panel – to mark the number of seasons he’s worked Dodger games – as well as a Dodger banner from Wrigley Field. Maddon also gave Scully, who rocks the conservative coat-and-tie look on TV, several T-shirts from his collection, including “Try Not to Suck.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said he told Scully: “Maybe at the end of the year, sitting by your pool with the sandals on, you can put a T-shirt on where no one can see you and just be Vin.”

As the tributes pour in from around baseball, CSN Chicago will carry Scully’s third-inning call live during Sunday’s broadcast from Chavez Ravine.

“He makes you feel like he’s known you for the last 50 years,” Maddon said. “Just really kind and gracious. And you have to be all of that to survive that many years. Besides being good, it’s his authenticity and how he interacts with people that really (keeps) you on that stage that long.”