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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.

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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