I told myself, what with the winter blahs and all, that I was done with misty eyed reminiscences about old ballplayers, at least until spring. But then Ron Santo died.
I’ve always thought of Ernie Banks as the eternal Cub and he is, but Santo – who should be in the Hall of Fame, by the way – is only a half step behind “Mr. Cub” in his lifetime of devotion to the boys on the North Side of Chicago.
In the eternal terminology of baseball, Santo was a gamer. Not elegant, not polished, just gritty and determined; a grown man loving playing a kids game and amassing fine stats over a 14-year career. A life-time .277 average, 342 home runs, numerous All Star appearances and a half dozen Gold Gloves puts Santo in rare company, indeed.
I loved the Ron Santo eulogy delivered by his long-time WGN radio broadcast partner Pat Hughes. Hughes took to calling Santo a “Cubs legend” and, as the Associated Press reported, the two broadcasters had a lot of fun together, including one hilarious moment when Santo’s hair piece caught on fire at Shea Stadium.
Hughes and Santo “were standing for the national anthem in the cramped booth when Hughes heard something ‘sizzling like bacon.’ He turned around, saw Santo’s head on fire and quickly poured a cup of water on it.
“‘He said how does it look?’ Hughes said. ‘I lied and said, ‘It doesn’t look that bad.’ It actually looked like a professional golfer had taken a pitching wedge and hit one off his head.'”
As good as he was as a ballplayer, Santo lived a long life battling diabetes. He originally didn’t tell the Cubs of his disease fearing it would prevent him playing baseball. It didn’t and considering the adversity he encountered, loosing both legs to the disease, Ron Santo turned out to be every bit as good and courageous a person as he was a ballplayer.
Everyone liked Ron Santo. Maybe that’s why he was destined to be a Chicago Cub.