Thoughts and pictures of my local minor league baseball team the New York Penn League Connecticut Tigers; a Detriot farm team. We'll still be looking at former Navigators/Defenders players along the way....

Friday, December 03, 2010

RIP Ron Santo

Beloved Cubs icon Santo dies at age 70

Nine-time All-Star, longtime broadcaster was Chicago legend

By Adam McCalvy /

Ron Santo played his last of 15 Major League seasons for the crosstown Chicago White Sox, but he was always a Cub. A star third baseman and part of the Cubs teams of the 1960s with Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, many believe Santo should be in the Hall himself. Then he became a broadcaster who couldn't help but cheer or chide his team from the radio booth for 21 more years.

He wasn't Mr. Cub -- that title belongs to Banks -- but Santo was the next best thing. So it was with great sadness that Cubs fans around the world reacted Friday when they learned Santo had died from complications of bladder cancer. He was 70.

Santo passed away in Arizona, where he makes his offseason home. He had battled health issues for a number of years, including diabetes, a disease that cost Santo both of his legs from the knees down, and slipped into a coma Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. He died Thursday night.

My siblings and I first knew Ron Santo as fans, listening to him in the broadcast booth," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. "We knew him for his passion, his loyalty, his great personal courage and his tremendous sense of humor. It was our great honor to get to know him personally in our first year as owners.

"Ronnie will forever be in the hearts and souls of Cubs fans."

Most young Cubs fans know Santo as the team's color commentator on radio broadcasts, and he certainly was colorful. Santo was a fan first and a broadcaster second, cheering a big hit as heartily as he groaned and sighed after a big strikeout. He never apologized for that.

But the more veteran Cubs fans know Santo as an All-Star third baseman, a fourth-place finisher in 1960 National League Rookie of the Year balloting who went on to hit .277 with 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs in 15 big league seasons, all but one with the Cubs.

He hit at least 30 home runs in four straight seasons from 1964-67 and drove in at least 100 runs four times, including a career-best 123-RBI season in 1969, when the Cubs lost a nine-game lead in the NL East to the eventual World Series-champion Mets.

Santo won five consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1964-68 and made nine All-Star teams. He holds the NL record among third basemen for consecutive games played (364, from April 4, 1964, to May 31, 1966), most games played in a season (164 games, 1965) and most seasons leading the league in fielding chances (nine).

And he played all of those games as a Type 1 diabetic. Santo was diagnosed at age 18 but didn't reveal his condition to teammates for years.

"Today, a diabetic knows a lot more about it," Santo told in 2002. "When I played, they didn't even know if I could play baseball."

Santo annually hosted a walk-a-thon to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. At the time he was diagnosed, shortly after he had signed his first pro contract, life expectancy of someone with Type 1 juvenile diabetes was 25. To some, he was a hero for his resiliency.

"I can't tell you how much it means to me," Santo said. "I'm very proud to be able to be an inspiration to a lot of people. I get a lot of letters, and my son opens them. When I get one from somebody who has lost a leg and is a diabetic, instead of me writing back, I call them. It means so much more to them. I've helped a lot of people who have lost limbs."

Santo's health had deteriorated in recent years. In addition to the diabetes and the amputations, he also suffered from heart disease and cancer. But he planned on returning to his broadcasting duties in 2011.

"I love what I do, and it keeps me alive, as far as I'm concerned," Santo told last Christmas.

"He absolutely loved the Cubs," Santo's broadcast partner, Pat Hughes, told the Chicago Tribune. "The Cubs have lost their biggest fan. ... He never complained. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to talk baseball. He considered going to games therapeutic. He enjoyed himself in the booth right to the end."

Santo was long a strong Hall of Fame candidate for his resume as a player, coming especially close to election in 2007 via a Veterans Committee vote, but he never realized enshrinement.

His last chance came in 2008. After falling five votes short the previous season, Santo fell nine votes shy of enshrinement.

The Cubs honored him last June on the 50th anniversary of his Major League debut. More tributes are planned in the wake of his death.

"In the days and seasons ahead, we will honor Ron and celebrate all he has meant to our team and our fans," Ricketts said. "Ron's No. 10 will always be close to our hearts and Ron will forever be a member of the Cubs family."

On the day he was honored last June, Santo recalled his first game. He had flown in the day before from Houston and roomed with pitcher Don Elston. He'd never been in a Major League ballpark, and he sat in the stands to watch the Pirates before he got into uniform, watching Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski.

When he made his first trip to the plate, the first pitch Santo saw was a curveball that buckled his knees.

"[Catcher] Smokey [Burgess] threw the ball back and said, 'That's a big league curveball, kid,'" Santo said. "Then I hit a line drive up the middle and it was like the world came off my shoulders."

Santo was 20 years old, playing in front of 40,000 people for the first time. He was scouted by all 16 Major League teams, but had developed a love affair with Wrigley early after watching the Cubs on the "Game of the Week" television broadcasts.

"When the Cubs played, there was something about Wrigley Field and Ernie Banks," Santo said.

The Cubs didn't make him the highest offer but he signed anyway, in 1959.

"Money wasn't the criteria for me," he said. "It was to get to the big leagues."

After he was finished playing in 1974, Santo was away from the game for 16 years. He came back in 1989 to throw out the first pitch for a Cubs playoff game. In 1990, he joined the broadcast team.

"I said, 'I'd love to be here when the Cubs win it,'" he said.


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