Bears

The best Ron Santo stories

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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.

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:

"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."

MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky

The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season). 

Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.

Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.