A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request

During his six minute diatribe detailing the trials and tribulations of a Cubs fan, Steve Goodman brings to life the frustration of the Faithful in song. He takes a few jabs at ex-players while blaming the Cubs for many of his vices. He goes on to tell his buddies he wants a funeral at Wrigley and to have six bullpen pitchers carry his casket. All in all, this is a riotously funny perspective and even a half decent song. However, if Steve Goodman were still alive today, I think he would write a different ending. And I would surmise that it would entail Ron Santo and Cooperstown, New York.

Ron Santo’s struggles with the Hall of Fame election process have been greatly detailed in many arenas. His voice is synonymous with the Cubs as he brings them into our living room, car or office on a daily basis. His documentary This Old Cub has been viewed by the masses and he is loved by all. He is such an inspirational figure, he convinced an overweight and out of shape man to walk from Arizona to Chicago to raise money for JDRF. He did this without saying a word or having any sort of relationship with Bill Holden. Bill watched the movie four or five times and basically put on his sneakers and walked out the door, six months later, with the same pair of shoes, he walked through the right field gate and strolled to the mound where the awaiting Santo was perched.

He is a spokesman and integral component of the fight against diabetes and specifically for JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. This is the Ron Santo I know. He is the Cubs broadcaster who openly talks about losing two legs and how Walgreen’s will donate $50 for every walk and how you can help in your daily life. Yes, he is also the Cubs radio color commentator, the medium for which he delivers his message. Lastly, to me, he is an ex-ball player, and a phenomenal one at that.

Ron Santo owns a career .277 batting average; he hit 342 homeruns while knocking in 1,331 runs. He is a nine-time All Star with five Gold Gloves and finished in the top ten of the MVP voting four times. He did all of this with a debilitating disease of which little was known at the time. I can only imagine what type of numbers he may have had today. I am not saying his disease should be part of the consideration, but it is hard not to think that is should help him in some way. No, not the BWAA, but with his ex-teammates and counterparts. The veteran’s committee holds his possible enshrinement in their hands. It is said that many who played against him did not like him, but I feel that this was due to his grit and heart, and that many felt he showed them up on the field. But talk to anyone who played with him or has gotten to know him and all they do is rave. Upon his entrance to Cooperstown, Sandberg said, “Ronny has one more vote now.”

Among all of these examples, I feel that Santo’s candor is his greatest characteristic; he is nothing if not unequivocal. He allowed cameras to sit with him while he waited for the call in 2003, a scene that was later part of This Old Cub. His pain was clear, his despair evident and his frustration contagious. I recall my own anger in ’03 and ’05 as he was stymied in his efforts to gain election to the Hall so I can not begin to imagine the true pain. The man’s statistics compare to the greats in the game and at his position. Was he the best third-sacker ever, no, but was he one of the best for over ten years, yes. Forgive me if I am wrong, but that ten year mark is normally discussed when evaluating potential candidates, giving Santo another qualification.

Like his politics or not, Keith Oblermann knows baseball and always mentions Santo’s name near or at the top of the list of individuals who belong in the Hall. Like it statistical records, Baseball’s Hall-Of-Fame is also the most cherished honor in sports due to its strict admittance policy. Heck, Dan Hampton is in the Pro Football Hall, but Santo is not in the Baseball hall. Baseball says it cannot compromise the Hall standards in order to ensure this honor is never diminished, but no one can tell me that Santo’s induction would, in any way, compromise this esteemed “building.”

This year I was fortuitous enough to meet Mr. Santo and it is an experience that will never be forgotten. By chance, I was sitting one table over from him in a pretty empty dining room the first night of the Cubs Convention and could barely sit still. When he ended dinner and stood up, I darted in his direction. We shook hands, I had my picture taken with him, and then handed him a napkin to sign. He took the napkin, looked at it briefly and then shrugged. I guess he has not signed that many cloth dinner napkins. He then looked at me with confusion and I realized he was not sure where he should stabilize the napkin. I smiled and quickly turned around and bent over and he signed it on my back. AWESOME! He shook my hand and I left him alone, knowing that two minutes of my life had just been engrained in my memory forever.

As Ron Santo awaits the phone call today, he does so as an talented baseball player, broadcaster, spokesman and philanthropist. His list of accomplishments dwarfs those of most people including professional athletes. He is the face of the Chicago Cubs and beloved by all. He brought light to an awful disease and gave hope to thousands of children who suffer every day. Sure, he may never be elected to the Hall of Fame, but he will remain a giant to those who lives he touched, improved and affected, even without two real legs.

It is time for the Veteran’s Committee to validate this man’s career, but in the terms of life it would be impossible to validate anything. There is no honor, trophy or bust that will ever say enough. Clearly put, Ron Santo is one of the greatest people who walk the face of the earth; any vote to that matter would simply be unanimous.

Feel free to contact me at brian@chicagocubsonline.com and until next time….

Stay Classy Ronny!

(note: the Hall of Fame annoucement is scheduled for 1:00pm C.T. on Tuesday)
This Old Cub – Ron Santo (from January 6, 2006)

Quote of the Day

"The man says 'play ball' not 'work ball,' you know." - Willie Stargell
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