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Cubs legend Ron Santo dies at age 70

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Cubs legend Ron Santo dies at age 70

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
Posted: 6:08 a.m. Updated 6:04 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
Ron Santo considered it therapy. That's why he kept coming back each day, each year, even as his body betrayed him.

A beloved player who became an iconic broadcaster, Santo would stop the golf cart that took him up the ramps to the Wrigley Field press box to sign autographs and chat with fans. His legs were amputated years ago, the consequences of his fight with diabetes, but this gave him energy.

To generations of fans, Santo was the soundtrack for Cubs baseball. That unique voice was silenced as the 70-year-old Santo drifted into a coma on Wednesday and died overnight Thursday in an Arizona hospital from complications with bladder cancer.

"There is no star player in any sport that loved his former team the way Ron Santo loved the Cubs," said Pat Hughes, Santo's radio partner on WGN-AM 720. "He loved being at Wrigley. He loved being around people. He loved the fans."

Santo's legacy goes beyond baseball -- he helped raise more than 40 million for diabetes research -- and he played the game under extraordinary circumstances, without insulin pumps or devices to measure his blood sugar levels.

"On the field, Ronnie was one of the greatest competitors I've ever seen," teammate Ernie Banks said in a statement. "Off the field, he was as generous as anyone you would want to know.

"Ronnie was always there for you, and through his struggles, he was always upbeat, positive and caring."

Nine All-Star selections, five Gold Glove awards and 342 home runs didn't get Santo into the Hall of Fame. But he found his own Cooperstown once his retired No. 10 flew from the left-field flagpole.

Hours after his death the marquee at Wrigley Field read: "RONALD EDWARD SANTO 1940-2010." Flowers and Cubs hats were placed outside the entrance to Gate G. And into the night, beneath a black sky, they took pictures of his name in lights.

"The heart and soul"

Like so many others across Chicago, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and his family first felt like they knew Santo listening to him from the broadcast booth.

"We knew him for his passion, his loyalty, his great personal courage and his tremendous sense of humor," Ricketts said in a statement. "Ronnie will forever be the heart and soul of Cubs fans. (We) share with fans across the globe in mourning the loss of our team's No. 1 fan and one of the greatest third basemen to ever play the game."

As Santo hobbled through the dugout on his way to a pregame interview with Lou Piniella -- "the fine manager of the Chicago Cubs!" -- it was easy to forget how athletic he once was.

But the numbers are sturdy and show that he performed at an elite level. Between 1960 and 1974, only four players had 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBI: Hank Aaron; Frank Robinson; Billy Williams; and Santo.

That resume didn't convince the Baseball Writers Association of America, which never gave Santo more than 43.1 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, or the Veterans Committee. Santo will next be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2012, though the new "Golden Era" ballot (1947-1972) hasn't been compiled yet and won't be revealed until next fall.

The snub lingered as a tremendous disappointment, but Santo's second act was unforgettable. For 21 seasons he was a color commentator in every sense of the word. Who else has a toupee catch on fire?

"Oh, no!"

In an age where announcers try to be slick or prove they're the smartest guys in the room, Santo simply couldn't hide the fact that he was rooting for the Cubs. It was the organization that signed him as a teenager out of Seattle. It was an unapologetic, improvisational style that couldn't be copied.

"I can't plan what I do," Santo said last summer, on a night where the Cubs celebrated the 50th anniversary of his big-league debut. "I get embarrassed sometimes when I hear what I said: "Oh, no! What's going on?" It's an emotion and it's being a Cub fan. I didn't realize it to be honest with you."

The bonds with the audience grew strong enough that Graham Warning, a Lakeview resident running errands Friday morning, felt compelled to stop and light a candle where Santo's name is engraved on the Addison Street sidewalk.

"He was the greatest," said Warning, a tear streaming down his face. "There's not a lot of stars that we can look up to anymore."

The baseball schedule can be absolutely brutal, even when you're traveling on charter flights and staying in luxury hotels.

Santo was hospitalized on Memorial Day after working a game in Pittsburgh and left the team the next week in Milwaukee. He had cut back on road games, but there was a sense that he would be behind the microphone next season.

"He enjoyed every moment until the last day of his life," teammate Billy Williams said in a statement. "You never had to look at the scoreboard to know the score of the game. You could simply listen to the tone of his voice."

Not a problem in the world

Santo used his platform to become the booming voice and smiling face of a cause. This wasn't just lending a name or checkbook activism.

Patrick Reedy, the executive director of the Illinois chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, remembered a towering figure that stood on artificial limbs and disarmed volunteers with his warmth.

Santo's walks for charity generated millions in donations, and his presence screamed at those young children with diabetes. They too could dream about playing for the Cubs.

"He brought a massive amount of joy and urgency," Reedy said.

It seems Santo did everything that way, and he was certain that he'd be there to make the call when the Cubs finally won the World Series. He shared the same optimism and frustrations as his listeners. He had to come to work to see what might happen next.

"This has been my life for 50 years," Santo said last June. "I wouldn't be around (without it). All I went through -- the diabetes and the operations -- and every time I walk into Wrigley Field, (I) don't have a problem in the world, other than moaning and groaning a couple times when the Cubs aren't doing well.

"The fans, the organization -- you kept me alive. I believe that very strongly."

Stay tuned to Comcast SportsNet and CSNChicago.com for more on this developing story.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.