Asking Cubs fans for patience on any issue is like asking a starving man to fast for another three days. It's a request going way beyond the breaking point.
Yet such a plea is perfectly acceptable for new radio color analyst Keith Moreland. A capable broadcaster, good baseball man and 1984 Cubs hero, he's the immediate successor in the booth for perhaps the most popular man in Cubs history -- Ron Santo.
"Nobody can replace Ron Santo," said Moreland. "He's irreplaceable. All I can do is keep the seat warm."
That he'll do, and more. Santo became at once an overpowering and lovable personality, yet the most technically imperfect sportscaster employed in baseball today. That was his appeal -- a franchise icon-turned-No. 1 fan given license behind the microphone. Moreland instead will bring forth a classical analysis with personality, his knowledge of the game and all-things-Cubs intertwining with his Texas twang that should play perfectly off the dulcet tones of play-by-play man Pat Hughes, whom Moreland called a "Hall of Fame broadcaster."
"A lot of fun," Hughes said of Moreland, who worked with him in seven games last season and a couple in 2009. "He's knowledgeable, he does his homework."
But neither pair of the WGN duo can rush their chemistry any faster than it will naturally develop. It will simply take time to play out. They know it. Will the fans, who in a poll at our SB Nation Cubs site Bleed Cubbie Blue gave Moreland a sizeable edge in for the job, follow suit?
"Chemistry is something that needs to be nurtured and developed," Hughes said. "I'm going to work with Keith and try to bring the best out in him. (He brings) certain things a guy who never played in the big leagues does not know, like what it's like to hit a 95 mph fastball. He's just going to have a deeper knowledge (of baseball) than I ever will."
The Santo-Hughes chemistry, which morphed into the wildly popular "Pat and Ron Show," took a couple of years to get into high gear after Hughes hired on in 1996. Six years earlier, young Thom Brennaman (I'll always call him that while his dad, Marty, reigns supreme in the Reds booth) had a somewhat bumpy introduction to Chicago. The junior Brennaman still has his critics, but by the mid-1990s I thought he gelled quite well as Cubs announcer next to Santo. TIme is all a competent voice needs.
The team and WGN knew they had to bring in a former player with a strong Cubs identity. They struck out when they hired Davey Nelson, who had no previous Cubs connections, back in 1988. Nelson lasted just two seasons. And don't bring up the Joe Carter fiasco on TV in 2001-02, even though Carter originally was drafted by the Cubs.
Moreland fits the Cubs historical angle perfectly, having been National League player of the month for Aug. 1984, just when that year's surprise NL East titlist zoomed into first place to stay. He was a good RBI man for a few years afterward before fading.
Later, Moreland took his broadcasting craft seriously, serving as a sideline reporter for radio broadcasts of Texas high school football -- a big deal in the Lone Star state -- along with nearly year-round work on University of Texas Longhorns football and baseball broadcasts. All along, he yearned for a chance to return to the big leagues, preferably with the Cubs, in the booth. We dared not pursue such ambitions too much in chats with Moreland so long as Santo was healthy enough to work regularly.
"I don't know if I have a style," Moreland said. "I can probably butcher the English language with the best of them. I feel I understand the game. A little more analysis, but I also like to have some fun."
Which in the end will endear him to fans. With only a three-year late 1980s interregnum of Nelson and Jim Frey and the strange shift of manager Charlie Grimm to the booth in exchange for Lou Boudreau for most of the 1960 season, the analyst's job has been filled by all-time fan favorites Boudreau and Santo since 1958. Listeners want to smile from time to time. Here's betting that "Zonk" Moreland will make you laugh in a much different way than Santo, if only being a straight man for the wry, sly, dry Hughes.
Give the man time. That's all he needs.