Cubs

Ron Santo's legacy will live on

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Ron Santo's legacy will live on

Billy Williams called Dec. 5, 2011 a great moment. He may as well have been speaking for the entire Cubs fan base.

That was the day Ron Santo was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it came roughly a year after the Cubs icon died.

"I was elated," Vicki Santo, Ron's wife, said Saturday. "The whole family was elated. Everybody says it's too bad he wasn't here and yes, it is. But this is the way it was meant to be.

"He worked his whole life towards his accomplishments so that he could he belong in Cooperstown...This is going to carry his legacy further."

Pat Hughes, the MC of the "Ron Santo: Beyond the Game" session at the 2012 Cubs Convention, kicked things off by asking how each member of the panel -- comprised of Vicki and Ron's son, Ron Jr., as well as former teammates Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley -- felt when they heard the news of Ron's induction into the Hall of Fame.

"This is something that he waited for so long," Ron, Jr., said. "Certainly, we would love to have had him here. Right when Vicki called me to tell me, I pictured his face and how he would react.

"I'm just relieved that it finally happened."

Hughes recounted how Ron's face would always light up like a little boy's when he was happy. That was the image that flashed through the head of Santo's former broadcast partner for almost 30 years.

"Ronnie would have been happier than anybody ever voted in," Hughes said. "This refocuses everybody on his playing career. Of what he was as a ballplayer. I think that's a very cool thing."

Hundley, Santo's teammate for eight seasons in Chicago, said he would head over to the Santo residence every year around the Hall of Fame voting up until five years ago.

"I think this worked out in the best way. He would have had a heart attack, Hundley joked.

"Every time I talked to him on the phone, I told him I loved him. I do love him. I'm proud of his career and finally getting elected into the Hall of Fame. It's well deserved."

Williams, who played over 2,000 games alongside the star third baseman, was on the Golden Era committee that voted Santo in with 15 of a possible 16 votes.

"Ron Santo: Hall of Famer. That sounds good, don't it?" he said. "I always told him 'this is the year.' And it finally came."

The panel discussed Santo's contributions on the field and in the broadcast booth, but made special mention of his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

He played his entire career with Type I diabetes, back when there was little known about the condition. The disease eventually took both legs, but it never took his spirit.

"You wonder how he did it," Williams said. "But he was so gung-ho to play baseball. He loved the game."

Santo put up great numbers while playing with the debilitating disease during baseball's true "Golden Era" of talent. But his personality was truly worthy of the Hall of Fame.

There were laughs all around as fans joined Santo's family and friends in recounting stories from his life.

Beckert was Santos roommate for a number of years and told a story about how the Cubs were on the road in Philadelphia in the late 60s when Santo hit a three-run homer.

"As he reaches home plate, the stands erupt," Beckert recalled. "All the fans stood up and applauded. And Santo said to me 'Rooms, I have never had this happen in my entire career where I'm on the visiting team and being cheered like that.' And I said 'Rooms, forget about it. Look at the scoreboard: Man just walked on the moon."

Vicki compared marriage with Ron to living out episodes of "Seinfeld and shared her favorite story of the Cubs legend. The two had recently gotten an extensive cable makeover at their Arizona home.

"So the guy leaves and not too long after, I hear Ronnie making a commotion because the remote wouldn't work," Vicki said. "I went in there and he's pointing the phone at the TV, hammering away on the buttons."

There were emotional discussions about Santo's desire to spend time with fans, especially fellow amputees. He constantly took time out of his day to give new amputees advice and insight on how to deal post-operative.

"It was really impressive," Hughes said. "He wouldn't just take two or three minutes. It was always 15 or 20 minutes. I saw that all the time."

Stories of Ron Santo will be told at the corner of Clark and Addison for generations to come. The Hall of Fame induction is just icing on the cake. An indication of all he meant to the game.

"Ronnie wasn't just a baseball player," Williams said. "He was a friend. I know right now, he's enjoying it. I don't think he's clicking his heels, though."

The on-field ripple effects of Addison Russell's potential return

The on-field ripple effects of Addison Russell's potential return

The Cubs have just started clicking as a team this season, but an off-field distraction looms next week. 

After starting 1-6, this team has turned it around and woke up Thursday morning a season-high 2 games above .500.

A central figure in that turnaround is Javy Baez, who has not only duplicated his production after an MVP runner-up campaign, but actually seems to have taken another step forward and is firmly entrenched as a superstar. 

So how could the Cubs turn around and disrupt Baez or the clubhouse with Addison Russell's suspension coming to an end next Wednesday?

There are many non-baseball implications with the Russell situation, including his development as a father of three children and a human being away from the diamond as he nears the end of his 40-game suspension for domestic abuse. 

But there are also on-field ripple effects of Russell's return, including the shortstop controversy brewing. 

Prior to his suspension, Russell was always atop the team's shortstop depth chart. There was some doubt along the way, but ultimately, it was Russell ahead of Baez with Baez moving around the infield as a utility guy.

But things are different now.

Baez has been phenomenal in every aspect of the game in the season's first month and has regularly displayed his exceptional arm strength and athletic ability while playing shortstop. This week alone, he made close to a dozen plays on the Dodgers from the outfield grass.

Last weekend, Joe Maddon called Russell one of the best defensive shortstops in the game and that's true — he is a gifted defender. But Russell doesn't possess the same arm strength as Baez (especially while dealing with right shoulder issues the last couple seasons) and Baez has not done anything to warrant moving him off the most important defensive position on the field.

"It's such a difficult decision and then to come to the conclusion, that definitely has to be considered," Maddon said Thursday morning. "Based on what [Baez has] done and his status among the group, but at the end of the day, you still have to make the decision that is best for the group and for the team. A couple years ago, we had to make a tough one when we took Starlin [Castro] off shortstop and put him at second and put Addy [at shortstop].

"It's not as clear-cut and easy as it may seem from a distance when you do talk to human beings and there is emotion involved and you have to consider that. But at the end of the day, you still have to make the decision you think is best for everybody involved. So this one has layers to it. It requires a lot of back and forth among all of us."

The Cubs have been talking about all the different scenarios, but haven't yet made a decision on how Russell would fold into the roster if he does earn a call-up next week. It's also unknown who will go down to the minors to make room for Russell, though Mark Zagunis could be the call as it stands right now.

Theo Epstein admitted Thursday morning the Cubs could still choose to option Russell to the minor leagues after the seven-game assignment is up next Wednesday, but right now, the whole organization is trying to take things one day at a time. 

Russell played shortstop in his Triple-A Iowa debut Wednesday night, but the Cubs confirmed he will also see some time at second base over the next week.

If Russell returns to the roster — which isn't promised, Epstein said — there's no guarantee he'll immediately be thrown in as a regular starter. Over the last two years, Russell made 29 errors and posted only a .245 average and .687 OPS in 240 games.

Inserting him at shortstop and moving Baez back to a utility role is a risk. The second base tandem of Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist (and some David Bote) has performed well and who knows if breaking up the stability will disrupt Baez in any way.

"I think everyone recognizes how important [Baez] is as a central member of this team," Epstein said. "The energy that he provides, the things he can do on the field and the spirit with which he does them — how important that is to all of us, so he's one of our very most important players. I think there's a lot to be said for creating consistency for your most important players — creating reliability, putting them in situations where they know they're relied upon and can impact the game, reduce variables for them, that type of thing.

"But there are a lot of other considerations, too. That's not lost on anybody. Addison's gonna play some shortstop on his rehab. He's also going to play some second base. He's also not back yet. I think it's a question for another day, but Javy is obviously right at the very center along with some other crucial players in everything good that we do. Risking interrupting that if you don't have to would be a questionable move. That said, it's not the only factor."

Baez has not done anything to lose his status as the everyday shortstop, but from strictly a baseball sense, it would be advantageous to add another elite glove to the infield. Baez has never had any issue with moving around defensively in the past and regardless of Russell's status upon his return, nothing will keep the Cubs from putting Baez in the starting lineup every single day when healthy.

Inside the clubhouse, Russell's teammates have shown him nothing but support.

Epstein was asked if Russell will have to win back the trust of the clubhouse again when he returns, but the Cubs president said that's not his place to answer. 

"That part of it is between Addy and his teammates," Epstein said. "I will say that everyone noticed that he was working hard on his individual relationships with his teammates this spring and he was a lot more open and engaged than he'd been in the past as part of his attempt to grow — not only most importantly as a person and as a father and a good member of society, but I think also as a teammate.

"He recognized there was room and need for growth there and then put a concerted effort in. I think there were moments where he took responsibility as well with his teammates. I think he recognizes the importance of it and has a desire to make things right with his teammates as well and gain their trust."

Cubs not promising anything to Addison Russell as his suspension comes to an end

Cubs not promising anything to Addison Russell as his suspension comes to an end

By the time the Cubs walk into Wrigley Field next, Addison Russell's name could be in the starting lineup.

The embattled shortstop began his minor-league assignment Wednesday night and is eligible to return from his 40-game domestic violence suspension next Friday, May 3 as the Cubs open up their next homestand by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals.

There's no guarantee Russell will be on the Cubs' roster by that point, but he has checked all the boxes laid out for him so far on his conditional second chance with the team.

"We're taking this day-to-day, which is appropriate," Theo Epstein said before the final game of the Cubs' current homestand Thursday. "This is one situation where it is not appropriate to get ahead of the story. Addison has a lot of work to do going forward. There's no finish line here.

"He's been compliant, he's put a lot of work in away from the field to try to grow as a person and improve his relationships and to this point, he has started to get results, which is really important for him and - more importantly - for the people in his life. That work continues. It's a day-to-day process of him putting that work in and him living up to the standards that we've set up.

"Now that he's begun his minor-league assignment, there are baseball considerations that start to creep in, but it's not as important as the work that he's doing off the field. He's in what amounts to a spring training of sorts where he's getting ready to return to play."

Epstein reiterated that "nothing is promised" to Russell and the Cubs will determine what is best for the entire organization when his seven-day stint in the minor leagues is completed next Wednesday.

Epstein said he has spent a lot of time talking to Russell and those in his life and the Cubs president of baseball operations believes there have been positive results in the young player's life away from baseball. He also reiterated to Russell that just because he's moving from the team's complex in Arizona to Triple-A Iowa does not mean a comeback is complete. There's still work to be done.

"His progress is that he's put in significant and necessary work to grow as a person and to improve his relationships to become a better father, a better partner, a better citizen, a better member of the organization," Epstein said. "But the majority of the work lies ahead. There is no finish line. He needs to continue to work.

"Thus far, he's taken things earnestly. He has put in a significant amount of work because he needed to and we'll continue to hold him to that. From the work that I've put in, I think the people around him in his life have noticed a positive change, which is important. He shouldn't win any awards for that; he doesn't deserve any plaudits.

"But I think that's important. With the decision that we made, we're looking for positive outcomes and having better relationships and more stability and something that's really positive."

A lot can happen over the course of the next week, but there will be implications far beyond Russell himself.

How will the fans react when he is announced for the first time at Wrigley Field? Who gets sent down to the minor leagues to create room for Russell on the 25-man roster? Does Javy Baez automatically move off shortstop to accommodate Russell?

We don't know the answers to any of that yet. All that's certain right now is the Cubs have a two-city, five-game road trip coming up with stops in Arizona and Seattle. And when they return to Chicago, Russell will be eligible.

He was initially able to come off the restricted list for the Cubs' May 1 game in Seattle, but the snowout at Wrigley Field on April 14 pushed the suspension back one more game plus next Thursday's off-day.

So now, instead of playing his first MLB game since Sept. 19 on the road, he'll have to immediately face the music in Chicago.

But that's if the Cubs call him up right away. Epstein acknowledged the team can decide to option Russell to the minor leagues after his seven-day assignment is completed.

"I told him the other day - seven days does not necessarily get somebody ready for a season," Epstein said. "If we don't feel like he's ready to come up here and contribute and help us win, then we're gonna do the right thing for the organization. Period.

"But that's getting ahead of the story. This is not to the point where he has successfully completed his minor-league assignment yet."

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