People of all ages, be it 7 or 87, love and admire Ronnie. Everyone appreciates him in their respective ways because he was a part of this team for 50 years in different capacities.
Ernie Banks might be known as Mr. Cub, but Ron Santo was the franchise. He was the figurative heart and soul. Cubs’ fans have never connected with a ballplayer the way they did with Ronnie. His histrionics in the booth emulated what was going on in millions of households around Chicago and the millions more around the country watching WGN.
His infamous and emphatic, “NOOOO … NOOOO …” call of Brant Brown’s drop against Milwaukee in 1998 defines Ronnie better than anything other call. He was heartbroken. He was devastated. And he felt just like every other Cubs fan did at that exact moment.
This was the beauty of Ran Santo, the commentator.
Modern-day broadcasters have gotten away from being “homers.” Heck, it seemed like Harry’s grandson would get more excited for the other team.
But not Ronnie. I don’t care if you just listened to just one half-inning of a game Santo was calling. You knew who he was rooting for.
Fans of other teams would mock him for various reasons, but only because they did not get it. He was not theirs. He was ours. And we loved him.
And we loved him for many reasons. I could go on for hours, but here are just a few:
“Well, Pat … (insert awkward description of the Cubs starting pitcher)”
“Pat, how did that guy get on first again?”
“Pat, if I had a body like that, I wouldn’t wear a shirt either.”
“Pat, do you think Ryan Vogelsong’s parents were singers?”
“And Walgreens is going to make a BIG, BIG donation …”
And most importantly,
“Thank you, Walgreens.”
At 31-years-old, I am too young to truly appreciate Santo’s on-field greatness. But I have heard stories from the great Cubs fans in my life, like my mother.
I have seen the footage from documentaries and movies, and that heel-click always brings a smile to my face. The click elicited many emotions from teammates, opponents and fans. And for most involved, it was a great thing to see that hop and those heels come together.
He was a nine-time All-Star, won five gold gloves, finished in the top-ten of the MVP vote four times, hit 342 homeruns, knocked in 1331 runs and, most impressively, played in more than 160 games in a season seven times. And he did all this with diabetes.
This was the beauty of Ron Santo, the baseball player.
Every Cubs fan knows what I just stated, but the numbers and accomplishments must be noted again.
Ron Santo was a Hall-of-Fame baseball player. The alleged idea that the baseball writers along with Joe Morgan and some of his fellow curmudgeons were unable to realize this is water under the bridge now. It is not the focus, nor should it be.
The focus is that Ron Santo had more of an impact on the Chicago Cubs and their fans than any other player.
It’s hard to compare players and broadcasters with owners and management, but Ron Santo just might be the most important figure in the history of Cubs baseball, and I really do not think that is an overstatement.
He was a member of the team that incited the creation of the bleacher bums. He was the emotional leader of the team that brought the fans back.
He was the broadcaster that made the radio fun again. He was the voice that resonated with the fans. He was the bridge to comfort when Harry died.
He was the man that brought Juvenile Diabetes and it’s harsh realities to the forefront of many minds in Chicago. He raised an innumerable amount of money for research, and lifted the spirits of thousands of children while showing them it is possible to overcome the disease.
Ron Santo went through more physical pain and punishment than most anyone can imagine. And he kept coming back because he couldn’t stay away. He loved the Chicago Cubs. He adored the fans. He could not imagine life anywhere else but the ballpark.
On September 28, 2003, the Chicago Cubs retired Santo’s No. 10 jersey. Ronnie rode around the field waving and smiling the biggest smile you can imagine. His day had come. And he knew that.
Standing at the microphone, speaking through the raucous ovation, Santo addressed the elephant in the room, or stadium as it may be. As he mentioned the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, boos rang down from the stands. But as the crowd quieted, Ronnie smiled and said it didn’t matter anymore, because having jersey retired and his flag flying high above Wrigley was his Hall-Of-Fame.
And it truly is.
Ron Santo’s impact on the Cubs goes far beyond what the Hall-of-Fame encompasses. And that is too bad, because Cooperstown, NY will never be complete without him.
But the Cubs will be whole forever.
Stay Classy Forever, Ronnie!