The best Ron Santo stories


The best Ron Santo stories

Five years ago, if the Cubs were looking for one person to be the official president of the team's fan club, Ron Santo would have been an obvious choice.

He spent more than two decades as a color commentator on WGN Radio for the Cubs and 14 years prior to that as arguably the best third baseman in franchise history.

During that time, Santo was one of the more entertaining personalities, always wearing his emotions on his sleeve -- even on air -- which has led to some hilarious stories.

As the late Santo was voted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend, we caught up with some of his former teammates, colleagues and fans as they relayed some of their favorite Santo stories:

Vicki Santo -- widow

"In 2001, Ron lost a leg, amputated because of complications with diabetes. It had been a terrible fight. Ten operations in 10 months. The next year, he had a sore on the other foot and was faced with a decision. After weighing the odds of a full recovery and no recurrence, he decided to go with a second amputation.

"As the nurse was wheeling him into the operating room, I heard him tell the doctor that the timing was perfect for this operation because he could be back for Opening Day. That's true. Only Ron. That's what was on his mind -- getting ready to broadcast Cubs baseball on Opening Day."
Pat Hughes -- broadcast partner

Hughes worked alongside Santo for 15 years in the booth and has countless stories at his disposal.

--One such story -- maybe the best of the bunch -- was when Brant Brown dropped a fly ball in a crucial game up in Milwaukee. As many Cubs fans know, Ron Santo screamed "OH NOOO!!" on air after Brown's misplay.

As Hughes tells it, after the game, Santo couldn't let it go, saying over and over again, "how does he drop the ball in that situation?!"

At one point, then-Cubs manager Jim Riggleman came over to Santo, how was still distraught, put his arm around the broadcaster and ensured him the Cubs would get 'em again the next day.

"That may have been the first time in American sports history that a manager consoled a broadcaster after a loss," Hughes said.

--In 2003, the Cubs retired Santo's No. 10 jersey with an emotional ceremony at Wrigley Field. Illinois declared that day the official "Ron Santo Day" in the state and gave Santo a proclamation stating that fact.

Early on in the booth, Hughes recalled how Santo was eating scrambled eggs and as the Cubs got a big hit, he spilled eggs on the proclamation. A little later, the Cubs scored again and Santo spilled his coffee on the proclamation. He also almost used it as a napkin, and told Hughes later that he had no idea what happened to that important document.

--Also, in 2003, Hughes recalls maybe the most famous of Santo's stories.

The Cubs were in New York to face the Mets, a bitter rival of Santo's from back in his playing days. Santo was famous for wearing a hairpiece and since it was early April, the weather was still chilly, so there was a space-heater in the booth.

As Santo was standing for the National Anthem, Hughes heard a little sizzling and smelled burning only to look over and see Santo's hairpiece on fire with smoke billowing out from the top of his head.

"So I did what any good partner would do," Hughes recounts. "I tossed a cup of water on his head."

--At the Fan Fest on Saturday in Cooperstown, Hughes told the story of his first broadcast with Santo in spring training down in Arizona. He and Santo talked the night before about how nervous Hughes was.

After Hughes made it through the first half inning without a hitch, Santo was ecstatic.

"Ron stands up -- he was sitting right next to me in the booth -- and he has this look of absolute joy on his face. The same look that he must have had when one of his teammates made a diving catch or when Ernie Banks hit a game-winning three-run homer.

"It's that combination of a senior citizen and a happy 10-year-old kid. He had this look on his face and he shakes my hand saying 'Great job! Great job!' and I'm thinking 'this is after only one half-inning of Cactus League baseball. Opening Day is still over a month away.'

"But he had this enthusiasm about him. He just loved everything about the Cubs and Wrigley Field and Cubs fans."

Glenn Beckert -- Santo's teammate and roomate for nine years

Beckert has some of the best stories from Santo's playing days, including the time when Santo was receiving death threats from angry baseball fans. As the two men were going to sleep in a hotel room one night, Beckert put a sign up in the room saying "Santo sleeps here" and another one above his own bed with "Beckert sleeps here" written on it.

"I wanted to make sure they knew which bed was his and which bed was mine," Beckert joked.

--"One day, we're playing Philadelphia and Ronnie hits a three-run homer to put us ahead," Beckert recounts. "And the fans stand up in Philadelphia and start applauding. And he comes up to me and says 'Rooms, I never had a crowd on the road stand and applaud like that.' I said 'Rooms, unfortunately, it's not for you. Look at the scoreboard -- man just stepped on the moon.'"

--Beckert also recalls the story when he walked in on Santo -- a diabetic who hid his disease from his teammates during his playing career -- shooting up with insulin in the bathroom.

Beckert was struggling at the plate at the time and Santo was hitting well over .300, so like a good teammate, Beckert said "Rooms, whatever that is, gimme some of that."
Cubs fans

We caught up with several Cubs fans at the Fan Fest in Cooperstown this weekend. Here are some of their favorite memories:

--David Kilstein: The Brant Brown call in '98.

--Raymond Duncan: The Brant Brown call in '98.

--David Carboni: First Cubs game with his father seeing Santo play at the Polo Grounds.

--Phil Ronald Santos (yes, that's his actual name): Hearing Santos' reaction when Kerry Wood got the save to clinch the 2008 division title.

--Fred Jolly: Seeing Santo run in to celebrate with Ken Holtzman after the pitcher's no-hitter.

--Raymond Duncan III: Santo's calls and passion on the air.

--Bonnie McLean: Watching Santo click his heels together after a Cubs win.
What is your favorite Ron Santo story? Share with us in the comment section below, and we'll update this post with each of your favorite memories.

John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music


John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music

It’s what every fan base deserves, along with players on a roster where tough conversations must be had to set a course for the present in order to secure a better future.


It’s ugly and while not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, everyone can see what the Bulls are doing for the remainder of the NBA season. For the paying customers who still fill the seats at the United Center, it’s a “cry now so hopefully you laugh later” proposition.

Bulls Executive-Vice President John Paxson addressed the media Tuesday and said what we all knew to be true, what everyone knew what was coming.

He didn’t stand up in front of cameras and tape recorders and ask, “Do you like Brazilian music?”

They’re tanking.

They’re putting a little bit more sugar to go with it but it’s old-fashioned ‘tussin for the next several weeks.

All of this is due to sight unseen—unless you watch college basketball or cue up European basketball highlights.

When you see Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson take two hard dribbles from the top of the key, spin and dunk while being fouled, it makes sense.

When Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton help on a driving guard to cut off a lane, recover to block a 3-point shot and run the floor for a layup in a six-second span, it makes sense.

When Duke’s Marvin Bagley III seals his defender with one arm, catches with his left hand and finishes on the opposite side of the rim with ease, it all makes sense and kudos to the Bulls for not trying to fool a smart public with useless rhetoric.

Every loss counts, of course, but the key thing about the NBA is this: No matter where a team picks, bad franchises make the worst of a good opportunity and good franchises make the best of any situation.

If the Bulls are the latter, it’ll show itself whether they pick fourth or second or sixth. This draft’s best player went 13th, Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. Lauri Markkanen is in competition for best player after Mitchell and he went seventh.

This was inevitable from the moment the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night. Although Kris Dunn has turned out to be a revelation and Markkanen could be a superstar, none of the micro wins should take away from the macro vision of this franchise, chief reason why Paxson has reasserted himself in the last year.

Paxson just framed it in the vein of long-term evaluation in announcing Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup, while Jerian Grant will see his playing time cut for Cameron Payne.

“Seeing some of our young guys play consistently, we’ve learned a lot about them,” Paxson said. “The hard thing when you do things like this is you’re asking certain people to sacrifice roles and minutes. And oftentimes, it’s veteran guys. That’s what we’re asking some of our vets to do right now—sacrifice some time on the floor and roles they’ve been very good in. That’s never an easy thing.”

Lopez and Holiday have been good soldiers through this process, especially helping navigate a fragile locker room after the crazy start to the season when Bobby Portis had enough of Nikola Mirotic in a practice and unleashed holy hell on a season that was supposed to be a quiet, boring losing season.

“I know what it’s like to be asked to take a lesser role,” Paxson said. “Players have pride. So it’s hard. I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s just the position we’re in as a young team, 20-37 with a lot of young guys and several who we haven’t really had the chance to see play much this year. For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do.”

Lopez has had a solid season, with career-highs in scoring and assists. Holiday’s scoring has nearly doubled this season and he’ll garner some attention around the draft in the trade market.

But with the Bulls being eighth of the eight bad teams, they need to get Super Bad (with a nod to James Brown) in the next several weeks. It’s not that the rebuild is steps ahead, it’s that other teams are better at being incompetent than the Bulls—and they’ll also be doing whatever’s necessary to secure a draft position.

At least the Bulls’ competence has come in the form of long-term answers. Certainly at the end of the year, one can lament Zach LaVine saving the Bulls from losses to the Timberwolves and Magic with late-game plays that cements the belief he could be a front-facing player—especially with restricted free agency coming this summer.

If Payne happens to be a useful NBA player in the process, it’s gravy but the Bulls aren’t really expecting it.

Fred Hoiberg has been pumping up Payne publicly by referencing him playing the role of Isaiah Thomas in the playoff preparation last spring, but he hasn’t played NBA level basketball in over a year.

And when he was on the floor, for that ill-fated period after last year’s deadline when Hoiberg was playing 11 guys without a real plan to win, Payne looked overmatched and overwhelmed.

“We want to see him as a point guard, especially when you’re running with the second unit, and the way Fred wants to play, play with pace, defend your position, compete every night and stay within yourself,” Paxson said. “His role is to get us into offense quickly and efficiently and make the right play with the ball.”

Felicio has taken a step back in terms of his development after steady improvement over the last two years, but in the big picture they’re casualties in the NBA’s cost of doing business.

And if you believe it’s anything else besides what you’re seeing, you might believe Paxson is truly asking if you like Brazilian music.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”