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A Cub I liked

* Ron Santo loved his Cubbies. And I love my Cardinals. And I respect anyone who loves their baseball team, even if it is the dreaded Cubs.

Santo died Thursday at the age of 70 after a battle with cancer. Earlier, diabetes caused him to lose both of his legs. Yet heSanto, in his playing dayspersevered and was in the Cubs’ radio booth whenever he could be, which was more often than not.

I tried listening to Santo a few times and he was not my cup of tea. I imagine people who aren’t Cardinals fans have the same problem with Mike Shannon, who has been in a Cardinals broadcaster for close to 40 years.

Santo and Shannon have a lot in common. Both were former players for the teams for which they became broadcasters. Both were third basemen, although Shannon did start out as an outfielder. Both were and are beloved by their respective fan bases for being unique.

Santo never even tried to hide his love for the Cubs during a broadcast. He was a classic “homer,” and it’s difficult to listen to someone like him unless you’re a homer, too.

But I’ll say this about Santo; he called it like he saw it. Yes, he was a Cub through and through. But when the team disappointed him, he had no problem saying so. He was a fan who happened to be a broadcaster and every team has one of those guys.

Santo was a really good player for some really good Cubs teams during the 1960s and early 1970s. He batted .313 in 1964 with 30 homers, 114 RBIs and 13 triples, though he wasn’t a fast runner.

Five years later, Santo batted .289 with 29 homers and a career-high 123 RBI.

He still ranks in the top 100 in MLB history in home runs (342, #84), and RBI (1,331, #86) and he drew 1,108 walks, which ranks 73rd all-time.

Santo played part of his career with Ernie Banks and most of it with outfielder Billy Williams on some of the best Cubs teams ever. True, they never won anything. But what Cubs team does?

Sorry, Ron, had to get in one last shot.

* Some leftover thoughts from KU’s tight win over UCLA on Thursday night at Allen Fieldhouse:

First, going to a game at the Fieldhouse never gets old. The old barn has been wonderfully restored and when it comes to procuring history, KU has done it right with its storied basketball program. It’s amazing the number of people who walk through the Hall of Fame before a Jayhawks game.

Now, for some thoughts on this season’s KU team:

Marcus and Markieff Morris have come a long way since they were freshmen. The next step is for them to get better defensively. KU coach Bill Self told reporters after the UCLA game that if he were coaching against this KU team, he would pound the ball inside every time. He recognizes how lacking the Jayhawks are with their interior defense. Look for that to be a focal point going forward.

Tyshawn Taylor has always been dynamic. Now he’s getting smart. It was exciting to watch Taylor slash to the basket and make several jump shots against UCLA. But I’m guessing Self was even more pleased with Taylor’s judgment at the point guard position. Taylor is a pass-first type who loves to set up his teammates. He passed up a lot of open shots Thursday night to get the ball inside, or to find other open shooters. Taylor shot free throws poorly against the Bruins, but it will be interesting to see the working relationship he develops with freshman Josh Selby after Selby becomes eligible to play Dec. 18 against Southern California.Tyrel Reed is what college basketball is all about. He has evolved into an important player on a team ranked in the top five, one who fills a role perfectly. I had doubts about Reed’s ability to play at KU’s level when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Burlington, a 3A high school. I knew Reed had the smarts; he’s the son of a coach, after all. I questioned whether he had the athletic ability to play at KU. But he has steadily progressed as a player under Self and is now one of KU’s most valuable weapons, a spot-up three-point shooter who is going to shoot a high percentage. And Reed is no slouch in other facets of the game. Through hard work, he has made himself a solid defensive player and he can handle the basketball. I love the Reed story.Neither Elijah Johnson nor Travis Releford showed me much off the bench in Thursday’s game. Both have had their moments this season, but they’re going to need to be more consistent. Selby could cut into both players’ minutes.

* For the sake of the Big 12, I hope Oklahoma beats Nebraska on Saturday night in the conference football championship game in Dallas. How bad would it look for the league if the outgoing Huskers won the championship?

I appreciate the OU-NU rivalry as one of the best in college football history, even though I never picked sides. Honestly, I didn’t care much for either team as a kid. Come to think of it, I didn’t really have a college football team when I was growing up. I guess if I had to pick one it would have been Wichita State, simply because I went to all of the Shockers’ games in those days.

Strange, I’m having weird flashbacks as I write about that time in my life as it relates to college football. I’m realizing I didn’t even follow that sport much as a child. I remember watching a few bowl games, but I wasn’t really locked in. I was a much bigger fan of the NFL.

Now, though, I’m college football through and through. I still like the NFL, but it doesn’t compare to college football, in my opinion. Except for one thing – the BCS.

I like OU to beat Nebraska, 24-20.

* I would be shocked if either Auburn or Oregon lost Saturday to South Carolina and Oregon State, respectively. Which means those will be the teams to play in the national championship game. I can’t argue with that match-up, just the way it was determined.

* Congratulations to Kansas State’s 7-5 football team for its bid Friday to the first-ever Pinstripe Bowl, to be played at Yankee Stadium. Cool, cool, cool. Unfortunately, I won’t be going.

But my attraction to this game isn’t the game. It’s New York and Yankee Stadium and New York and more New York. It’s one of my favorite cities, even if it does cost $3 to breathe there (that’s my way of saying it’s really expensive).

I think there are far too many bowl games and far too many mediocre teams playing in them. And while Kansas State and Syracuse had some nice moments in 2010, it’s difficult to classify 7-5 teams as anything but mediocre.

I will say that mediocrity is being rewarded nicely in this case. The Cats get to go to New York.

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