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."

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 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 pitching. 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.

[RELATED: Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen]

“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.”