Why Ron Santo was 'Superman' to the Cubs


Why Ron Santo was 'Superman' to the Cubs

ST. LOUIS Ron Santos body had betrayed him long before he wound up in an Arizona hospital in December 2010. But the news still felt like a shock.

Cubs director of baseball operations Scott Nelson received a phone call in the middle of the night from Jim Hendry. The general manager at the time was hearing rumors about the 70-year-old Santo. Their worst fears were about to be confirmed, complications from bladder cancer.

I never thought hed die, Nelson said. To me, he was like Superman. Everything would just bounce off of him.

I never thought anything would get him, because he was the toughest guy in the world.

Thats the image Santo projected to all those kids who were fighting diabetes, the disease that got his legs amputated.

Virtually everyone around the organization has heard some punch line to a Santo story, and thats why hes still so beloved. But there was a much harder edge to this Hall of Famer, who will be inducted on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Between 1960 and 1974, Santo was strong enough to hit 342 home runs, quick enough to win five Gold Gloves at third base and steady enough to make the All-Star team nine times. The grind was like oxygen, which was why he kept coming back year after year, 21 seasons as the voice of summer on WGN Radio.

Santo was addicted to Wrigley Field. Thats where Dusty Baker got to know Santo on a daily basis as Cubs manager from 2003 to 2006. Baker, now managing the Cincinnati Reds, paid Santo the ultimate compliment, comparing him to his old-school father, a military man who served in World War II and didnt believe in sick days.

(Santo's) about as tough a guy as I've ever met, but he's also a kind-hearted, sensitive man, Baker said. He never complained about anything. I knew he had to be in pain. I know there were times he'd fall down and he wouldn't let you help him up.

Nelson who began working in the Wrigley Field clubhouse in the mid-1970s and is in his 30th season with the Cubs still gets emotional talking about Santo.

It was because of him that I fell in love with baseball, Nelson said. It was because of him that I fell in love with the Cubs. He is the Cubs. I always say when you look at that team, the Hall of Famers Ernie (Banks) and Billy (Williams) and Fergie (Jenkins), even the manager, Leo Durocher (Santo was still) the captain of that team, and that tells you a lot.

As a player, there was nobody like him. There was such enthusiasm, spirit, just such heart. I know a lot of the clichs have all been said that he was the heart and soul but he was, and you just had to see him play to know that.

Growing up in the western suburbs, Nelson remembered Santo appearing at a Pontiac dealership in Naperville one day to sign autographs. Near the end of the session, they took a group picture: I like nudge every (bleeping) guy out of the way to be right next to him.

Nelson recalled riding his bike back there several times, waiting for the photos to develop, which never happened. Santo the player had captured the imagination of an entire generation of Cubs fans.

But Nelson eventually discovered that his hero was even better than advertised, and became a good friend over the years: How often can somebody say that?

Nelson watched someone who always had time to stop and chat with fans and sign autographs. This was a rainmaker who helped bring in more than 60 million for juvenile diabetes research. The way Santo carried himself isnt forgotten in the clubhouse.

The great thing about Ronnie is he didnt have an ego, pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. When youre that good for so long and you were on the cusp on the Hall of Fame and now in the Hall of Fame sometimes humble isnt necessarily part of the dictionary. And Ronnie was 100 percent humble and he knew where he came from.

On the field or on the air, that personality resonated in the city that works.

Ronnie loved to play and have fun, said Samardzija, who grew up in Indiana. He withstood a lot of things and I think Chicago fans appreciated that. Hes definitely not a pretty boy or anything like that. They just tend to agree with those kinds of players, and Ronnie was definitely the epitome of that, just a dirtball who loved to play every day.

Santos legacy was secure no matter what, with his retired No. 10 flying at Wrigley Field and a statue at Sheffield and Addison. But the timing of it all a Golden Ballot vote last December after being turned down 15 times by the writers and denied by the veterans committee is still bittersweet.

I only wished that he had gotten into the Hall of Fame while he was still alive, Baker said. He didn't enjoy it. His familys enjoying it, and I'm hoping that, indeed, hes in heaven smiling right now.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season


Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning


Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.