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."

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.”

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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.”   

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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.”