Cubs

Vicki Santo hits a home run with induction speech

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Vicki Santo hits a home run with induction speech

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When Master of Ceremonies Gary Thorne introduced Cubs legend Ernie Banks Sunday, he said the day's motto was not "Let's play two!" as the Hall of Famer is famous for saying, but rather "Let's induct two!"

And that's exactly what happened at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y. Sunday afternoon. Only there was just one player on hand to make his own induction speech.

While Barry Larkin spoke for himself, Vicki Santo had to fill in for her late husband, Ron.

She had but one goal in mind when she walked up to the podium.

"It's for Ron," she said of her speech. "I just wanted to make him proud. I wanted to make him proud of me and our family. I was thrilled to do this."

Having a loved one make an induction speech for a player is almost unheard of nowadays, as players are typically voted in during their lifetime. But Santo's journey to the Hall of Fame was anything but typical.

As such, Vicki changed the standard format for her induction speech on Ron's behalf.

"His speech would have been all about his career, which is what it should be," Vicki said. "I couldn't talk about that, but I think there was a message in his journey and that's what I tried to get across to the fans, who he loved more than anything.

"He just loved them and I feel that this is closure for them. They were all right behind him, wishing that he could get in to the Hall of Fame and it happened, so we're thrilled."

Vicki admitted to succumbing to her emotions when she practiced the speech to friends and family before Sunday, but when it came time to follow through in front of thousands of fans -- many of which were decked out in Cubs gear -- and millions more watching on TV, she delivered in the clutch.

Vicki was an emotional rock at the podium, staving off tears and waves of sorrow and regret. Santo spent almost three decades striving for the Hall of Fame while he was alive, yet his induction came almost exactly a year after his passing. Instead of focusing on that -- which Santo's camp considers an injustice -- Vicki was insightful, genuine and grateful.

Her speech incurred a warm reception from the fans in attendance. Past Hall of Famers approached her after the ceremony to provide kind words, including former White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and legendary pitcher Jim Palmer.

Journalists couldn't help themselves in the post-ceremony press conference. Instead of staying objective, they lauded Vicki for her moving speech and unwavering delivery.

Even Larkin, who followed Vicki with a speech of his own (that stretched on for 33 minutes), took a moment to turn to Mrs. Santo and said "Vicki, you were awesome! Great job!"

Johnny Bench, a Reds icon and good friend of Santo's, provided some comic relief between speeches when he donned a Cubs jersey and No. 10 hat for his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and his Harry Caray imitation. Vicki said Ron would have thought Bench's performance was "hysterical."

Yes, it would have really been something to see Ron's reaction when he finally accomplished his lifelong goal. But Sunday allowed Vicki to deliver his message nonetheless.

"I think you all know how intense Ron was," she said. "Whether it was on the field, in the broadcast booth or in his fight against diabetes. And Ron loved with the same intensity. He loved his friends and he loved his family.

"Especially his children -- Ron, Jeff, Linda and Kelly -- and his grandsons -- Sam and Spencer. The intensity that Ron lived with will live on through our family's efforts to find a cure for a disease that so challenged him for 51 years of his life.

"And in his legacy, let it be know that here is a man who attained the highest honor his sport can give while playing with an insidious disease.

"He was an inspiration, and he will continue to be an inspiration."

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”