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My acquaintance with Carlos Zambrano goes back to his teenage days when he would sit near our seats behind the plate charting pitches between starts for the I-Cubs. He wore stiff new jeans and his hair was oiled to a sheen. Over the years he exhibited an almost womanly fussiness about his hairstyle, as unsure apparently about that particular aspect of himself as he was about the whole.

Amputation of the heels he so famously used to click wasn’t enough, not even on top of an assortment of other ailments that included the diabetes through which he played his entire career.

A long stint as the Cubs’ ambassador to a whole new generation of fans wasn’t enough either.

And clearly the impressive resume he amassed as a player wasn’t enough by itself.

No, Ron Santo finally had to pony up his very life to get what he deserved and so craved; induction at Cooperstown. After he paid that price too, the contrivance known as the Golden Era Committee finally, belatedly in my view, did the right thing and let the man in. Now, after almost exactly a year in purgatory since he died on December 2, 2010, Santo can move on to the HOF; proof positive, if you need it, that there is such a thing as life everlasting.

I knew it would happen this way if it was ever going to happen at all. I bet Santo couldn’t pronounce the word ‘posthumously’ any better as it’s written than Harry Caray could backwards. But he sure as hell knows what it means. It means that he won’t get to celebrate with his family until such time as they’re all ever in the same place at the same time again, by whatever mysterious means such a thing might ever be accomplished.

I listened to Santo play on the radio with my dad. My own kids got his autograph when I took them to Wrigley Field. I was there the day his #10 was retired and I was there the night they unveiled his statue outside the ballpark. I toyed with the idea of going to Chicago for his funeral, just as I’m toying now with the idea of making my first ever pilgrimage to the Valhalla of baseball for his induction next summer. By then I expect I’ll have come to my senses – probably.

Understand that I feel obliged to write this. And I appreciate a forum on which to post it. Please indulge me and do not engage in a statistical dissection of his worthiness or lack thereof - enough of that already. Just let it be.

Too bad he didn’t get in while he was still alive but at least he did while I still am. I can check that item off of my Cub bucket list. Let’s see; there’s only one thing left…

Pre-holiday musings while waiting for some real news about PLAYING personnel:

•Due to overcrowding in the front office the saber-squad works out of the Wrigley Field scoreboard. You know, inside the numbers.

•Prince Fielder re-ups with the Brewers and gives them a substantial hometown discount now that Sveum is finally gone.

•Sveum’s brother, Sven, joins the team as a rowing [pronounced roving] instructor.

•Alfonso Soriano finally goes to the wall on a ball and gets lost in the ivy. After the search is called off the team schedules “burn the contract night.” The first 10,000 through the turnstiles get facsimiles of Soriano’s contract and matches with which to light them during the 7th inning stretch.

•During Miami’s first visit to Wrigley Carlos Zambrano defects to the visiting clubhouse where Ozzie Guillen grants him asylum. Negotiations lead to the Marlins’ sending Andre Dawson back to the Cubs as compensation.

•Theo does away with the celebrity sing-alongs in favor of medleys performed by him, Hoyer and Wayne Messmer. Besides “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” repertoire includes old Lettermen and Kingston Trio hits like “Shangri-La,” “Greenback Dollar” and “Hang Down Your Head, Mike Quade.”

•Sandberg is hired as Sveum’s understudy and later suspended when he tests positive for HPH (Human Personality Hormone) after knocking a few jokes out of the park in meetings with the beat writers. Quade is heard somewhere saying, “&%$@#* Sandy!”

•Change the Culture Night features espresso flowing from the taps and in the dugout water coolers in twin spirits of urgency and hustle. 11 Cub base stealers thrown out, including Bryan LaHair trying to stretch a HBP into a double.

•Cubs begin selling “gull safari” packages as a new revenue stream, allowing fans the chance to shoot birds from the bleachers after daytime home games.

•Team finishes out of the money in Year One but Hoyer does win the MLB General Managers’ Fantasy League with no Cubs on his roster.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody. Never thought I'd say this but, GO PACKERS!

logoYesterday’s tease piece in the Sun-Times that envisioned a reunion in Chicago next year of Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols got me connecting some dots of my own.

looney logoThe weather on closing day was as perfect as it had been inclement on Opening Night. A full house was still trickling in at a leisurely holiday pace into the third inning. Enough came to nudge the season turnstile meter past the half million mark for the seventh time in the last eight seasons despite a last-place team that lost more games than it won for the first time since 2005 [for the record, the home slate was well above sea level at 40-31] and the loss of three dates, most recently on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend on the final home stand. Oddly, the franchise ended up setting an attendance record for a three-game series over the weekend, thanks in part to a rainout that nobody wished for.

The first hint that it was not a normal night at Principal Park came when the national anthem was whistled.

The team, the economy and the schedule all stunk. This looked to be the year when the Cubs’ winning streak at the turnstiles would snap.

statueThere are more than a couple hundred players enshrined at Cooperstown and they are paid homage by something like 350,000 annual visitors to baseball’s Hall of Fame. At Wrigley Field a mere three Cubs have been immortalized in statuary and only half a dozen’s numbers flutter atop the foul poles. This Mecca draws in excess of three million pilgrims per season. Maybe Ron Santo was on to something when he listed the corner of Clark & Addison in Chicago as the address of his personal HOF.

headshot


The street that runs behind the right-center field wall of Principal Park in Des Moines is no Sheffield Avenue. Ballhawks do not roost there nor are there rooftops from which knotholers eavesdrop on the ballgames. Beyond it runs the Des Moines River which has been known occasionally to swell up and invade the playing field.

baseball cardOn April 16, 1972 I was about six weeks shy of high school graduation. It was a Sunday and that afternoon I was hanging out at Pete’s West End Super Service, a gas station down the street from a buddy’s house.

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