Cubs

Vicki Santo: Ron was "a guinea pig" playing with diabetes

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Vicki Santo: Ron was "a guinea pig" playing with diabetes

Some will argue that Ron Santo doesn't deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because his career statistics aren't eye-popping.

Sure, he never reached 3,000 hits or 500 home runs. He never won an MVP Award and hit .300 or above in just three of his 15 seasons.

But he is also the Cubs' franchise leader in Wins Above Replacement (WAR, since 1900) and faced a Hall of Fame pitcher in 12.62 percent of his plate appearances.

Santo's numbers are even more impressive when you consider he played his career with diabetes and kept it a secret the whole time.

"That was something," longtime teammate Fergie Jenkins said in Cooperstown this weekend. "Nobody really knew until he wanted to tell individuals. Players suspected something. He was always eating candy bars halfway through a ballgame and had Cokes and that.

"They found out later he was diabetic. His roommate, Glenn Beckert, knew and Santo wanted to tell the players later on in his career. He wasn't suffering from it. He played with it and he was able to do a great job."

Santo hid his diabetes for more than a decade. Beckert tells the story often -- including at Saturday's Fan Fest in Cooperstown -- that he once walked into his and Santo's room and saw the Cubs third baseman injecting a needle into his behind in the bathroom.

As Beckert tells the story, he was hitting poorly at the time while Santo was hitting well over .300. So Beckert said "Rooms, whatever that is you're taking, gimme some of it."

The disease eventually claimed both of Santo's legs and unlike athletes nowadays -- such as Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- Santo couldn't just test his blood sugar anytime he wanted. This was the 1960s and '70s. Things like a glucometer just didn't exist back then.

"You see, long before technology and science caught up to diabetes, Ron Santo was as much a guinea pig as he was a baseball player," his widow, Vicki, said in her induction speech Sunday. "On a given day, he played doctor and patient as well as third base."

"He tested his sugars by taking grounders. He checked his glucose levels by taking grounders. He gauged the amount of insulin he would need by running the bases. This was all before the game even started.

"His prescription was often a candy bar or a glass of orange juice, never letting on that his sugars were low or telling his teammates about his daily injections. But without the difficulties, what value would have been his physical gift? What meaning would have been the journey?"

Vicki said that Santo hid his disease for so long because he was afraid they would take baseball away from him. After his playing career was over, Santo became a huge advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), raising more than 65 million.

Vicki spent much of her speech focusing on all Santo did for the cause during his life, but Cubs fans knew little about how much it actually affected him on the field.

"Ron told this story many times about an afternoon at Wrigley Field when he was really struggling. The low sugar came over him very quickly, as it sometimes did," she said. "Suddenly, he found himself in the on-deck circle.

"Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert had already reached base. Billy Willams was at the plate and Ron's sugar was really low. It got so bad, that Ron was hoping Billy would just strike out so he could end the inning and get back to the dugout for a candy bar.

"But Billy walked to load the bases. Now Ron really had a problem. His vision was blurry and he was weak. His plan was to hit the first pitch, but he didn't count on seeing three balls coming to him. So he picked the middle of the three and swung hard."

The end of her story brought the crowd at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown -- Cubs fans, Reds fans and just pure baseball fans -- to applause and awe:

"He did it -- a grand slam."

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.