Cubs

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.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: