Cubs legends and Hall of Famers return to spring training: ‘Nothing better than that’

Health and safety protocols at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had limited the personnel allowed at 2020 summer camp and 2021 spring training.

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Celebrated former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was in spring training camp in 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdown. Two years later, he and other Cubs guest instructors are back.

Celebrated former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was in spring training camp in 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdown. Two years later, he and other Cubs guest instructors are back. File photo.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Celebrated former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe squeezed into the back of the media scrum late last week and motioned to manager David Ross.

“Go ahead, Sut,” Ross said. “I’m sorry, he’s going to pull rank.”

Sutcliffe, suppressing a grin, had a bone to pick with Ross.

For the first time in two years, the Cubs welcomed their wealth of guest instructors, a group full of Cubs legends and Hall of Famers, back to spring training. Health and safety protocols at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had limited the personnel allowed at 2020 summer camp and 2021 spring training.

“It’s the best,” Ross said of having them back. “That’s the first thing I said when they showed up. I missed that. The players missed that. Guys like Andre Dawson, Sut, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg. When you’re able to introduce those guys, have those guys talk baseball around your group, there’s nothing better than that.”

For several days straight, Ross used the team huddle before stretching to read off one of the special guest’s credentials.

Last Thursday, it was Williams’ turn. In Sutcliffe’s retelling, Ross told the group: “We’re going to be here a while because I’m reading Billy’s. It won’t take long tomorrow — I’m reading Sutcliffe’s.”

Ross laughed when Sutcliffe interrupted his morning meeting with reporters to complain.

“His résumé is a little bit longer than yours,” Ross said. “When you have a statue — I was just telling the truth. I like to tell the truth.”

Villar versatility

New Cubs infielder Jonathan Villar arrived in camp over the weekend. He signed a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2023.

“He had a really nice season last year,” Ross said of Villar, who primarily played third base but also shortstop and second for the Mets in 2021. “Gives us some versatility to move around.”

Against a left-handed pitcher, the Cubs could play switch-hitting Villar at third base and move Patrick Wisdom to the outfield to get more right-handed batters in the lineup. Villar also gives them a left-handed bat against tough right-handed pitchers. The Cubs’ infielders are primarily right-handed hitters.

The Cubs also have made balancing workloads a priority for middle infielders Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal and Andrelton Simmons. Adding Villar makes that even easier.

Late arrivals

Cubs pitcher Brailyn Marquez and Harold Ramirez have yet to report to camp, Ross confirmed Sunday. The manager announced last week that both were delayed because of travel complications.

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