Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Kid K? Well, A Middle Aged Version Close to Return

This is news I can get behind, and it really made my morning as I read that Kerry Wood, AKA Kid K, might be returning to the Chicago Cubs. Wood has always been one of my favorite Cub players and it hurt a little when we let him walk two years ago to Cleveland. while the Cubs turned to Kevin Gregg. 

Gregg pitched well at times, but a terrible weekend in Florida doomed him and the Cubs slim playoff hopes. Wood and the Indians struggled and it was evident that both sides had made a bad choice. This season, Wood was finally shipped to the Yankees, where he turned in two really solid months of pitching.

If Wood has turned the corner and can avoid long stints on the DL, the Cubs get a perfect pitcher to help secure the back end of the bullpen. With Carlos Marmol closing, Wood and Sean Marshall take over the 7th and 8th inning duties. The Cubs never found a Right-handed counterpart to Wood last year, and now the Cubs have a few opitions. Andrew Cashner will likely be be used in the 6th and 7th innings, which might be perfect for his development in low-pressure situations. The Cubs will likely trot out the ghost of John Grabow some, until they finally waive him or find a DL spot for him.


Now, the Cubs will likely be forced to trade or release somebody, because the Cubs have 40 players on the 40-man roster.


Here is just some quick speculation on the 40-man:


Starters


Carlos Zambrano


Ryan Dempster


Carlos Silva


Tom Gorzelanny


Jeff Smardzjia


Randy Wells


Andrew Cashner?


Dempster, Zambrano, and Silva are probably going to start. Other signings pending, that leaves the Cubs with four guys with two spots. Wells probably has a leg up, but I would think that someone is going to get dealt before the Wood signing is made offical.


Relievers


Marmol - Closer


Marshall - 7th/8th


Wood - 7th'/8th


Cashner - RH


Grabow - LH


That leaves two spots for the likes of James Russell, Casey Coleman, Brian Schlitter, Jeff Stevens, Esmailin Caridad, Thomas Diamond and Macos Mateo. Not to mention the Biobic Arm of Angel Guzman.

My guess is that Cubs at least try and give Grabow a chance since they are paying him four million dollars this year.


What do you guys think? I love the Wood idea, so I hope it is finalized.

We read the Shout Box

NEXTyearNOW points out that since I wrote yesterday's post, the Yankees have started talking about trading for Zambrano, and Kid K is negotiating to come back to our bullpen.

So, yes, I will come right out now and say that we DON'T need no stinking Matt Garza.  He has never won 20 in the bigs, and he has pitched most of his games in a dingy wart dome.  He would never be able to adjust to the changing weather conditions in Wrigley.  I don't feel he would be a good fit for us.

I also see big things ahead for the Fooker this year.  The fourth big league season is usually when Japanese players finally acclimate to the speed of the game.  I no longer advocate trading him for a sack of manure.  This is the year he learns to lay off the low pitches and forces hurlers to pitch to HIS strengths.

Also, let me add that since we have Carlos Pena in the fold, we certainly have no room on our club for Albert Pujols.  It would just be too damn weird to see him wearing pinstripes, anyhow.  We can't afford him, anyhow.

Joey Votto has been extremely dismissive of the Cubs in recent years, and in fact, he's just a whiny little bitch,  We sure don't need him, either.  Nor do we need some quiet, shy, wallflower type like Andre Ethier.  Certainly Soriano and Colvin have more experience manning the corner outfield spots at Wrigley. 

Let me conclude this morning by asserting my support for Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney as Executives For Life.  Both men have stood up admirably during tumultuous times at Clark and Addison, and if the Ricketts family knew what was best, they would call both of them in today and extend their contracts into perpetuity.

Pitching will tell the tale for the Cubs in 2011

The only "impact" hitter the Cubs possess, past, present, or future, is Alfonso Soriano, and his category is, of course, "past".  So, even if he has his current "typical" .800 OPS year, and even if every other member of the offense has an above-average statistical year, the Cubs will still finish in the middle of the pack offensively in the NL.   Considering the salaries being paid, that's not OK, but otherwise, that would be acceptable if we had solid pitching and defense to back that up.

AJ pointed out the other day that, except for third base, the defense isn't going to lose us any games.  The past year or so, an effort was made to replace Soriano in left during late innings.  It might be time to, instead, consider doing that for Ramirez.  It was different when ARam was our most consistent late-inning run producer.  It was also different in his younger days when he was characterized as 'lazy'.  At this point in his life, he may honestly just be this slow.  It is the manager's job to address this situation, and hopefully Quade has these types of late-inning defensive thoughts.

Which leaves the pitching, and well, damn.  I consider myself to know more about hitting than pitching, but I don't think we are very well equipped going forward. 

I think we have Dempster, a #2 starter.  If we are to go with his last 10 starts last year, Zambrano is a nice #3 starter (the slot he held during the "glory" years mid-decade), but there's a catch, and it isn't just that he makes Ace Money.  Personally, I love to watch the man play, but if we are talking about winning, we need consistency and excellence that can be relied on.  You cannot rely on this Toro.  If your lawnmower crapped out as often as Z does, you'd push him to the curb. 

I thought Hendry was going to do just that last month.  The right whispers were there.  Nothing has happened on that front.  Maybe, though, now that Cliff Lee is now with Philly, the Yankees will need to do something big, because that is what they do.  Maybe we'll hear some new rumors soon. (UPDATED)

What else do we have?  One more year of Silva the Hutt, who reverted to his true blobular self in the 2nd half.  There's mediocre lefty Gorzellany, who is being shopped.  There's noted nightlife lover Randy Wells, who early this year I compared to Greg Maddux because he doesn't have a 'big arm', but seems to know how to pitch when all is right.  Wells can be part of a staff if he prioritizes.  To me, he is worth more in a trade than on our staff.

There has been word lately of efforts to get Matt Garza from the Rays.  This would be more exciting if there was, like, any chance in hell it could happen.  The question came up - why would the Rays make this deal?  If it could make their team better!  If somehow the Rays and Jim Hendry could hammer out a good old-fashioned "value" trade, where we sent them something of roughly equal value to what we would receive.

The problem is, to my knowledge, the last time Hendry was involved in a true "value" trade was the big Nomar deal in 2004.  All of Hendry's trades since have either been: desperation dumps of Sammy Sosa and Milton Bradley; favors to players like Ted Lilly and Greg Maddux; or the occasional fire-sale swap with the Pirates.  I doubt Hendry has the ability or the stones to make a straight value-for-value trade, where he gives up, say, Wells and/or Gorzellany, along with top prospects, or something that involves one of our young players with experience, like Colvin or Castro.  At least, I don't trust him to do it right.

I fail to see what is so special about Casey Coleman.  I have never seen why the Shark was worth the money he has been paid, although I grasp the concept it had to do with the eventuality that he might have opted to play football instead, it doesn't justify why it was given to HIM.  It is a hope of mine, though, that the new pitching coach has a rapport with him that Rothschild never had.

In the best of situations, we need two of the afore-mentioned starters to step up.  However, we are going to need three, because we don't have a staff Ace.  Therefore everyone steps up a rung.  And, if sometime between now and spring training, Zambrano opens up his ugly mouth and says something unforgivable, which COULD happen at any given moment that he is awake, then Hendry will be forced into another of his patented 'addition by subtraction' dumps, and all we'll have is Dempster and dumpster.

Bullpen?  Thank God for Sean Marshall.  This is about the time of year, typically, when the "Marshall is a good soldier, he deserves a chance to start" refrain is sung.  This year, though, nobody dares.  He has to stay in the pen.  Otherwise, we rely on surgi-zombies Grabow, Caridad, and Guzman, along with Andrew Cashner and Rafael Dolis, two guys with huge arms and absolutely no idea about how to pitch. 

Then of course we have our closer, the Harry Potter of the majors.  Carlos Marmol set records last year for both percentage of pitches swung at and missed as well as strikeouts per nine innings.  Honestly, I thought the 1977-79 Bruce Sutter was the most unhittable force of all time - Marmol crushed his stats, simply crushed them.  Thing is, though, both Sutter and Marmol pitched for fifth place teams.  I have always maintained that the secret of his success is how hard he concentrates on his task.  Can he keep up that level of concentration to close games that matter?  Nobody knows, do we?

So that brings us to the point where we go get some pitching help.  I will come back soon with some possible candidates, but one of them is not Kerry Lee Wood.  Now, I love me some Wood.  Great guy, historical guy, diabolical stuff, cute, perky wife.  Great in the community, loves the Cubs and Chicago.  But he also represents something we need to get away from: unrequited Cub Hope. 

The Ricketts need to pull a 180 in terms of historic direction.  I am afraid Wood represents the way things used to be done here: work hard, not smart.  When at first you don't succeed, throw harder; tear yourself apart, go on the DL.  Suffer the crush of over 100 years of Cubs karma; resign yourself to your fate.  I feel that happened to Wood, as it happened to Grace, Sandberg, Banks, Williams, and on and on. 

If the Cubs are ever going to win it all, it will need to be with new blood.  Could it be Castro?  Soto?  Marmol?  The Korean kids in Peoria?  I dunno, but it won't be with Kerry Wood, God bless him and his 20 Ks and his Game 7 loss and his tattered shoulder and the burden of 102 years on top of him.  We need to find some help elsewhere.

Somewhere, a rotation of the ages is born. Elsewhere, envelopes containing x-rays pile up

The Phillies, who once had Cliff Lee, then moved him along elsewhere because they felt they could not afford him AND Roy Halladay, changed their minds and decided, yes, they COULD afford both of them.  So now, there they are, along with fairly recent World Series Ace Cole Hamels and longtime stud hoss Roy Oswalt.  Will it work?  Who knows, really?  It certainly seems as if it should.  Keep in mind, though, that just going back two years, Hamels, Lee, and Oswalt all had an mediocre-to-bad season.  Only the Doc is concrete cyanide every day, every way.

Now, watch, because the Baseball Gods never seem to let anything work out like this.  It would be typical if, this year, it was Halladay who somehow forgets how to pitch.  It is kind of like the White Sox this past year: they stacked up Peavy and Buehrle and Denks and Gavin Floyd and were supposed to pave over a weak AL Central, and it ends up that they needed to get Edwin Jackson simply to finish out the season.

What does any of this matter to us?  Because although red-hot all-male offseason action doesn't necessarily equate to wins and titles, it certainly does buy fan enthusiasm.  And, if for some reason you have only been a fan of the Cubs since, say, 2001 or 2002, you have been treated to a truly special time.  We won the division three times the past decade (more than our share!!) but even more, it was weee who led not only our division, but the entire NL in offseason noise! 

Cubs bring in World Series manager Dusty Baker!  Cubs sign Maddux; compile "Five Aces" rotation!  Cubs bring in Lou Piniella!  Cubs sign Soriano to record deal!  Cubs win Fukudome sweepstakes!    For a franchise accustomed to retreads and can't-miss prospects who consistently miss, the past several years have been like hanging out with a lottery winner on a bender. 

It's been a lot of fun, and easy to get excited about, and write about on a million Cubs blogs like this one.  Of course, keep in mind, in the end, we won nothing of any real significance, and in the end, the last big Hendry move turned out to be the worst.  On one hand there is reason to consider bringing in the man who led the majors in OPS the previous year.  On the other hand, you might want to stop and pause, to consider exactly WHY the man who led all humans in OPS in 2008 would be available to the highest bidder that same winter?

It was a particularly painful way to remember a rather simple truth: that money and offseason buzz alone does not win pennants.  It may help, but other things, like leadership, character, and perhaps a leadoff man that had some plate discipline, also need to be in place.

So here we are, at least I am, in below zero temperatures, rehashing the latest GROTA theme: we're all busy people these days, times have definitely changed, and there just isn't enough going on in Cub world for any of us to risk losing our jobs writing about it.  (And yes, Cub blogging played a part in my losing a job several years back, longtime readers may recall).  Thing is, though, it is one thing to ignore a few phone calls because my favorite sports team just went out and spent nearly 150 million dollars on a 40-40 guy.  It's another thing to endanger a livelihood debating over whether it was worth it to bring in a guy who hit .196 last year, as opposed to just letting Brad Snyder hold down first base until some of the big contracts come off the books.

Between the Super-Recession and our new jobs, new babies, and in my case, fulltime grad school at age 46 (?!?), the notion that we may bring in the corpse of Brandon Webb to replace Tom Gorzellany isn't going to generate enough buzz to compel us to fill this space with scintillating baseball expertise.

Good news (maybe?), though?  I have a month where I don't have to study, do homework, or try to sneak inconspicuously down hallways packed with kids less than half my age.  Even though I in my heart believe the Ricketts family have no inclination whatsoever to improve the team in 2011, I admit I was surprised they even considered signing Carlos Pena, even for a deferred one-year deal.  I had resigned myself to a year of Adam LaRoche, a completely useless piece of crap whose game I have always hated.  Why?  Precedents.  Because: even before they became Cubs, I hated Sammy Sosa (self-centered), Derrek Lee (balls of silly putty), Alfonso Soriano (Sosa-esque hollow stats), Jason Marquis (too walky), Jim Edmonds (really?  seriously?), and last but not least, Milton Bradley (how's your fambly, homes?).  So why not LaRoche?  Hey, Aaron Miles worked out so well for us.

So yeah, even though Pena will most likely make many of us long for the DPLee days, at least I don't have to watch the impossibly stiff LaRoche stand at the plate in pinstripes until say, mid-June, hitting below .050.  Yes, then somehow while nobody is looking, he then manages to hit about 21 quick homers and ends up with a batting line ju-u-u-st respectable enough that some other loser gives him a job the next year.

So, at least for that, alone, I thank Tom, Todd, Laura, and Pete.  Thank you, you wacky uber-Chads. 

We'll discuss Kerry Wood tomorrow.

The Chicago Cubs and Defense: A Three-Year Retrospective

The guys at Fangraphs have done it again. Visitors to their site can now look at aggregate statistical data. If you ever wondered who led the Cubs in WAR (as calculated by Fangraphs) between 2005 and 2010, it's never been easier to have your question answered.

Personally, I love stats. Always have, always will. It probably has something to do with the fact that I'm a complete math nerd (love me some xkcd.com, e.g.). And it's a big part of why I love baseball: as far as sports-related statistical analysis goes, baseball's the best there is. Kudos to you, Bill James et al.

But having been involved in the sabermetric conversation for some years now, I've come to find that stats have their shortcomings. At the very least, those who deride the value of statistics have an argument worth making. At the macro level, their argument is this: stats don't tell the whole story. Great numbers are great, but it sure seems like "some guys just win."

Perhaps the one aspect of baseball to which this adage can be most accurately applied is defense. Fielding ability -- and by extension, the proper way to measure it accurately -- is the most hotly-contested numerically-related issue in baseball. Everyone's got their own method, and different systems churn out different results for different types of players.

With Fangraphs' release of aggregate data, I've decided to take a look at some defensive statistics for Chicago Cubs players over the past three seasons. I hope the numbers I've pulled out from various spreadsheets serve as a guide to an ongoing discussion about the team's abilities and shortcomings. (Note: Fangraphs does not evaluate defense for pitchers or catchers.)

CENTER FIELD
Marlon Byrd had a great year with the bat for
the Cubs in 2010. But his center field defense might make him the
team's most valuable player over the course of Lou Piniella's tenure.

Based solely on their performance in center, Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, and Kosuke Fukudome have been three of the Cubs' worst overall defenders
relative to other major leaguers at the position since 2008. In
contrast, Fangraphs estimates Marlon Byrd saved about nine runs more
than the average center fielder in 2010, boosting the team's overall
record by a full win.

LEFT FIELD
This might be the most telling of all Chicago Cubs
defensive factoids: since 2008, the team's best defender has been
Alfonso Soriano. The man is certainly error prone, but his decent speed
and strong arm give him a plus-rating as an overall defender.

Unfortunately,
now that teams know not to run on him, Soriano's cannon is less valuable in terms of generating outs. But there's certainly something to
be said for holding runners.

SHORTSTOP
Everyone knows Starlin Castro struggled with errors
last season, but on a per-inning basis, his range is eight times better
than Theriot's in terms of runs saved. That sounds about right.

THIRD BASE
Over the last three years, Aramis Ramirez has a below-average defender at third base in every facet of the game measured by Fangraphs: double play ability, range, and errors made.

The weakest part of Aramis' defense over the past three seasons was his range in 2010. After being an asset on defense in 2007, Ramirez' range has been suffering from an annual decline. Even if he bounces back with the bat in 2011, this could be Aramis' last year at third for the Cubs.

FIRST BASE
Derrek Lee's range at first base puts him among the
league's best defenders at the position. Based on three years of data,
only three other major league first basemen have better range: Ike Davis
(NYM), Daric Barton (OAK), and Joey Votto (CIN). 

Having said
that, defense at first base might be an overrated skill. The difference between the league's absolute best and worst defenders among qualified
first basemen appears to cost a team no more than one win over the
course of a season.

Over the past three years, Lee has been about
five defensive runs better than Carlos Pena per 150 games played.
Statistically, that total represents just half a win on a team's
expected record.

SECOND BASE
The numbers say the Cubs' best defender at second
base since 2008 has been Jeff Baker, but that probably has more to do
with the fact that he hasn't spent much time there. Both he and Mike
Fontenot rate favorably at the position.

What's more telling
about Baker and Fontenot's numbers is that they're better than those of
either Blake DeWitt or Ryan Theriot. Cub fans clamored constantly for
Lou to move Ryan over to second, but in 545 defensive innings played at
the position Theriot's range was below-average compared to the rest of
the league.

The Cubs may have a long-term solution for second base in mind, but don't bother asking me what it is because I have no idea.

RIGHT FIELD
I've saved the most boring for last: Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin are both able defenders in right. Both players will give Mike Quade an above-average option defensively for a late game double-switch.

Break in the Action

I would like to interrupt this banner offseason for the Cubs to announce that, as of today, I'm officially done with my second Graduate Degree. This was 18 months that I couldn't give my all to GROTA.


Here is a round up of things that has happened in the last 18 months:

  • I lost a job, only to have it offered back to me when a teacher decided to let a student reliever himself in the back of the classroom. It may seem false, but it's totally true.
  • The Cubs have gone through two ownership groups and two mangers, yet Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney still have jobs with the Cubs.
  • The Cubs over .500 streak last just three years. It was good while it lasted.
  • We saw the end of the Derrek Lee era come to a close, and replaced him wth a guy that hit .196 last season. UPGRADE!!!
  • Todd Ricketts went undercover for CBS. Ratings success? Maybe. Confidence builder for the organization? Not so much.
  • The Washington Nationals just pulled a Cub signing with Jayson Werth. We all know how this one ends.....How much longer is he signed?
  • We saw the rise and fall of Carlos Zambrano. I don't know which way he's heading now.
  • The Cubs finally brought up an exciting player in Tyler Colvin.....oh wait, I mean Starlin Castro. Does anybody else project a Jeff Francoeur career path? Power, speed and solid defense. Check, Check and Check. OBP skills? Eh, not so much.
  • I wrote countless papers for Grad School, not including all the editing and grading of my own students. Off the top of head, probably over 500 pages in 18 months.
  • Our first child, Ben, was born on June 1st, 2010. We knew life would change, but nothing prepared me the joy that he has brought our family.
  • On that note, none of the books I read about having a child prepared me for the fact that he had Down Syndrome, but now I feel almost like an expert now. I think that should be an added chapter in some of those books. Hmm...that gives me an idea.
  • We moved houses after our first semester and we just now finally getting around to actually putting the house together.
  • Did I mention Jim Hendry is still the GM? How's that possible after two different rebuilding projects. He's got to have some photos.
  • We've seen Milton Bradley come and go. I'll never forget him throwing the ball in the stands and the good times he brought us all.
  • The San Francisco Giants won the World Series with the likes of Aaron Rowand, Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe. Shocking, just shocking. So, I guess there is hope for the Cubs.
  • On second thought, they did trot out some of the best pitchers in the game.

I would like to thank all the writers here at GROTA that offered support during this time. GROTA has gone through a lot of changes, and hopefully we'll be here bringing a little humor and insight of the Cubs for years to come.


Sincerely,
Chris (AKA Yarbage)

Cub Rumor Round-up

Sully's got a new column out today on top of the Cubs' latest moves, so why don't I recap the latest for y'all? First, the done deals:

- The Cubs signed Carlos Pena, former Tampa Bay Rays 1B, to a one-year $10 million deal, with $5 million of his salary deferred until 2012.

- The team drafted Mason Tobin from the L.A. Angels in this morning's Rule 5 draft, and then promptly traded him to the Texas Rangers for an unspecified return. Hopefully Tobin doesn't turn out to be the next Josh Hamilton. No Cubs were drafted, which means Marquez Smith will be with the team next season.

Now, the rumors:

- Before signing Pena, the Cubs had been rumored to be in talks with the Texas Rangers that revolved around sending the Rangers prospects in exchange for reliever Darren O'Day and first baseman Chris Davis. Davis may no longer be a priority for the Cubs now that Pena is signed; however, since Pena's deal only lasts one year, Davis may work well with the Cubs' future plans.

- The rest of the rumors swirling around the Cubs' potential personnel moves revolve around pitching. As far as current Cub players being shopped, reports suggest Hendry was gauging other teams' interest in Tom Gorzelanny at this year's winter meetings. Presumably, Gorz wouldn't be traded unless the Cubs add another pitcher with at least some starting experience to take his spot in the rotation. Speaking of which,

- Brandon Webb appears to be the Cubs' new number one priority now that first base is taken care of for 2011. Webb is rumored to have the Cubs near the top of his list of preferred professional destinations, given the team's proximity to his Kentucky home. It looks like the Cubs will continue to seek out additional information on Webb's health before stepping up their pursuit of him.

- The Cubs have also been mentioned in rumors involving Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, but it doesn't look like Hendry is ready to give up the prospects that would be required to get such a deal done.

So that's what's up. I have a feeling the Cubs will be able to sign Webb as soon as they decide they want him, and I think that's a great move. Perhaps Gorzelanny could then be sent to Texas for either Chris Davis or Darren O'Day. I suppose we'll see.

The Goatrider semi-official stance on the signing of Carlos Pena

At least it wasn't Adam LaRoche. 

Cubs nab Pena for $10 million

MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that Carrie Muskat is reporting that Jim Hendry is reporting that the Cubs have signed Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal. You all are fortunate not to have taken me up on my wager offer earlier this month.

The statistic you'll hear most often about Pena's 2010 season as pundits analyze this deal is his .196 batting average. But hopefully those same writers will also point out that Pena had a higher on-base percentage than Tyler Colvin last year (.325 vs. .316).

The second-most frequently cited stat you'll hear will be the 28 home runs he hit last season. And indeed, given his slugging numbers from the past few seasons, it appears that maybe -- just maybe -- the Cubs have finally signed a left-handed hitter with power for the middle of their order. Hopefully $10 million gets us an on-base higher than .325 (.356, .377 and .411 in his past three seasons, although those are obviously trending in the wrong direction), and hopefully the man can play decent defense (FanGraphs seems to think he's pretty close to average). Who knows, maybe we'll want him back in 2012.

Speaking of 2012, I just wanted to add one comment: if the Red Sox extend Adrian Gonzalez and the Cardinals sign Pujols, that would make it seem like the Cubs will be competing with the New York Mets to sign Prince Fielder next year. Just food for thought. (Get it, food? 'cuz he's fat?)

Why Ron Santo matters

On the surface, it seems pretty cut-and-dried.

Ron Santo, longtime Cubs third baseman and radio announcer, died today at the age of 70, from complications of bladder cancer. 

So why did it take me nearly an hour to type that sentence?  It is because of my high esteem for the man, that I wanted to write something profound; but I ended up just keeping it generic, so I could just get past it.  It is a huge part of my childhood dying.

Ron Santo at one of his many "days"Starting sometime in 1965, the Chicago Cubs started Ernie Banks at first base; Glenn Beckert at second; Don Kessinger at short; Ron Santo at third; Randy Hundley behind the plate; and Billy Williams in left.  Every fourth day during that time, Fergie Jenkins would pitch.  Some other guys would play in the outfield, and in 1970, Banks gave way, but through 1973, that lineup remained constant.

Now, I understand these guys never won anything in the standings.  But there hasn't been another day-to-day continuous lineup like that for the Cubs since then.  In fact, maybe except for the Big Red Machine of the 1970's has there been a team like that anywhere.

What's more, not only were the Santo-era Cubs long-lived in the day-to-day lineups, but they have been long-lived in real life as well.  That main core, Santo and Kessinger, Beckert and Banks, Williams and Hundley and Jenkins were still intact, until today.  They have been frequent visitors and contributors to Wrigley Field since their on-field breakup 37 years ago.  Some as coaches, others as announcers, but they all reunite whenever one of their own are honored, when a number is retired.

Banks will be 80 next year; Williams 72; Jenkins, Hundley and Kessinger 68; Beckert, Santo's roommate on road trips, was born the same year as Ronnie.  The point is, not only were these the Cubs of my extreme youth, but for over 45 years, this core of men have been a team, on the field and off.  In my mind, and I am sure in the minds of all Cub fans my age, they are all one; and one for all.

It is amazing that they all have lived as long as they have; especially Ronnie, who had every excuse and reason to slow down and try to preserve himself, but would have no part in such a thing.  Literally, parts of him were falling off - not just his legs, but his internal organs were one-by-one giving up on him.  The physical Ron Santo was dying before our very eyes, but his soul, his great big Cub fan soul, would not rest until today.  Players, coaches, and fellow media members could not honestly believe that he would keep dragging himself up to the booth, on flights, on road trips, in all types of April frost and July heat, to watch and describe what was frequently a poor product on the field.

He had no reason to prove anything, and I honestly don't believe he was trying to prove anything.  Some say he kept coming out in a desperate, futile attempt to keep himself in the public eye for Hall of Fame consideration.  There's an oxymoron for you there, "Hall of Fame consideration".  Like the numbnuts in charge of casting the votes have had any for Ron Santo over the years.

That's crap.  No, Ronnie kept going to games because he knew nothing else.  He was a Cub, and a Cub fan, perhaps the greatest who ever lived.  He was at the park for no other reason than it was where he belonged. 

To me, more than Harry Caray or anyone else I can possibly think of: not having Ron Santo around anymore is just not going to feel right.  He was, as always, where he should have been: the heart and soul of the Cubs. 

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