Cubs

Frankie O: Santo was one of the good guys

Frankie O: Santo was one of the good guys

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
2:37 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

No matter the circumstance, the news always comes as a surprise. I was driving into work on Friday. My morning had, until I turned on my radio, been focused on my thoughts and emotions brought about from watching the movie "The Road" the night before. The movie, adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, was set in a post-apocalyptic world. It told the story of a father and son and their quest for survival. The world in which they lived was bleak and dangerous and seemingly devoid of anything positive. I found it to be haunting and mesmerizing. It brought out every joy and fear that you could have as a parent. During their journey, when the son was questioning the father on why they carried on, the father explained that they were the "good guys" and hopefully would find others that were "carrying the fire" in their hearts. As I learned the news of Ron Santo's passing on Friday morning I found it sad and ironic. If anyone was carrying the fire, it was Ronnie.

Although I had never met him, I, like millions of others, felt I knew him very well. This came from the fact that I had listened to him and Pat Hughes on Cubs radio broadcasts for countless hours since I moved to Chicago. He had the ability to connect to anyone listening because of the undeniable emotion that was behind everything that he said. He broadcast many games that might not have been really important in the scheme of things, but you could never tell by listening to him.

Of course when I got to work, there was only one topic for the day, and like the man himself, the conversations brought a wide degree of emotions. The first response, almost to a person, was that it was a shame that he did not get into the Hall of Fame while he was alive. For what seems like forever, he carried the unwanted designation of being one of the best players, if not the best, not in the Hall. The argument, for or against, is a popular one among hard-core baseball fans. Although where I work, you can guess what the overwhelming consensus is. The slight is one that a lot of us can't figure out. There are reasons that the baseball writers did not vote for him, nor in recent years the veterans committee, but no one seems to want to share them. His very public emotions in dealing with this are something that endeared him to many. To be thisclose to your dream and have it denied would be heartbreaking to anyone, that he dealt with it with class was a measure of who he was. In fact, some would say, it was this bitter disappointment and the ability to get back up and dust himself off and carry on, thinking tomorrow would be better, that made him the ultimate Cub. He was nothing but a reflection of a franchise that has known its share of disappointments for the last 102 years.

But for me, I always get back to one thing: That everything that he accomplished was as a diabetic. He dealt with this disease for most of his life in a time when it was not as, for lack of a better word, easy, as it is now. In fact, it is very celebrated, that for years he tried to hide it from the team. You would think that having to deal with something like that EVERYDAY would instill in a person an understanding of what truly is important in life. That would be measured in the 60 million dollars he raised through his juvenile diabetes foundation and the untold hours he spent helping others sharing his same plight. I would hope that all of us would want to give back and help others during the course of our lives. Ronnie was someone who lived this every day.

I always wondered why someone like this wouldn't make the Hall of Fame a better place. Why a complete measure of HOW and WHAT he accomplished as a player was taken into account. (Much the same as I felt when Buck O'Neil was excluded for his lifetime of contributions.) But ultimately it was not his lot and something that saddens me and many I talk to. What is more important though is it did not keep him from having a tremendous impact with his life. He will be remembered for being one of the best players of his generation. He will be remembered for having a passion for the Cubs that was shared with us all as he provided a soundtrack for our summer. He will be remembered for having a cause and fighting for more than just himself. And for me, most of all, he will be remembered for carrying the fire. Ron Santo was one of the good guys.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more rehab starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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