White Sox

The legend of Ron Santo will live forever in Cooperstown

823237.png

The legend of Ron Santo will live forever in Cooperstown

ST. LOUIS Before Ron Santo and Billy Williams had their statues facing each other at Sheffield and Addison, they were side-by-side at Double-A ball.

This was San Antonio in 1959 and Williams remembered Rogers Hornsby, a roving Cubs instructor, going down the line after watching workouts near the end of the season.

He looked at some of the guys and said, Listen, you better go get a job because you cant play this game of baseball, Williams recalled. He started to get to us and we didnt know what he was going to say.

He goes: William, you can hit in Chicago. You can hit right now in Wrigley Field and we want you to work on your defense. Santo, youre a good defensive ballplayer and youre going to hit some home runs. Both of you guys are going to be in the big leagues pretty soon.

Hornsby must have had a pretty good eye for talent, but theres no way he could have known that both players would ultimately join him in the Hall of Fame.

As part of the Golden Era committee, Williams lobbied for his old friend last December, and secured the spot in Cooperstown, almost exactly a year after Santo died from bladder cancer.

After years of frustration and disappointment, the induction takes place on Sunday in upstate New York, and theres no doubt which hat Santo will have on his plaque.

I dont know if the worlds ever seen a guy with more passion and care and love for a franchise, said former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Loved the players. Loved the fans. Loved the city. And gave his whole life through thick and thin, through good health and obviously horrible health the last decade to the organization.

Santo wound up hitting 342 home runs, and winning five Gold Gloves at third base. He never ran with the sabermetrics crowd, but he did finish among the league leaders in walks nine times during his 15 years in the big leagues.

But numbers dont tell the story of Santo, not even the more than 60 million he raised for juvenile diabetes research, because that doesnt even begin to account for all the sick kids and amputees he quietly found time for across the country.

Traveling secretary Jimmy Bank is in his 20th season with the Cubs. Santo had two legs when Bank took the job, lost them both fighting diabetes and to the end pushed to make as many trips as possible.

Heart of gold, Bank said. Every hotel, everywhere we went, he stopped and signed autographs. I even asked him a couple times: Ronnie, dont sign in the lobby, because then weve got security issues with the players.

Santo would raise his voice: These are our fans! Im gonna sign!

In good times and bad times, Santo became such a huge part of the Cubs brand, as the voice on WGN Radio for 21 seasons. Hendry, Bank and TV play-by-play man Len Kasper all essentially said the same thing: I think about him all the time.

When I got the job, he called and told me how excited he was for me, Kasper said. He basically said: Youre a Cub now. And thats kind of how he viewed the world. Once I was a Cub in his mind, I was in.

Santo didnt need to memorize the game notes. Pat Hughes, a great straight man with such a smooth voice, was there for that.

Santo was the one connected in the managers office and the clubhouse. The players saw what he went through, hobbling to get on charter planes and refusing to complain during the brutal travel schedule.

He was real, man. He was truly passionate about baseball and the Chicago Cubs, outfielder Reed Johnson said. The players really bought into that, (and) thats why he got so much respect, especially from guys in the clubhouse.

Johnson remembered the call when the Cubs clinched the division in 2008: You could just hear him in the background on the radio going: Yeeeeesssss! Yeeeeesssss!

On some level, even if you never met Santo, you still knew him if you just listened on the radio, and that connected generations of Cubs fans.

He was as himself on the air as he was off the air, Kasper said. That is what I think most broadcasters strive to be, but we all hold something back, under the guise of professionalism or whatever.

But I think in a pure sense of what people want especially Cub fans and people in the Midwest they want you to be genuine. They want you to be unvarnished and unfiltered and Ron brought that every single day.

If there was a player he had never heard of, he would tell everybody on the air, and there was something very charming about that.

Bank had lunch with some friends on Saturday in St. Louis and they started telling Santo stories. It doesnt really matter whats going on in Cooperstown. As Bank said: There are things in every city that remind me of him.

After Santo died in 2010, Bank got phone calls from bus drivers in a few cities, including the one the Cubs have had for years in St. Louis.

They used to hear us on the buses laughing and having fun and talking, Bank said. They called me (to say) were really gonna miss (you guys) on the buses.

That was the kind of magnetism at the core of Santos personality. Friends, strangers, it didnt really matter. They gathered to watch him play with maximum effort and listen to him moan and groan and cheer on the radio.

Thats why so many will be there in Cooperstown, as the Hall of Fame recognizes what the Cubs already knew a long time ago.

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

mickeradolfo.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”