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Santo legacy

Walker Carey | Tuesday, December 6, 2011

News broke Monday afternoon that the Baseball Hall-of-Fame’s Golden Era Committee had elected legendary Chicago Cubs third-baseman Ron Santo for induction, as he garnered 93.8 percent of the vote. While I am a diehard Chicago White Sox fan, I was still very happy with the news. Santo, who died at age 70 on Dec. 3, 2010, from complications due to bladder cancer and pneumonia, always meant a lot to my father, my brother and I as baseball fans.

My brother and I never had the privilege of watching Santo patrol the hot corner, as he retired from baseball in 1974, but our father regaled us with tales of his heroics. There is a pennant hanging in our family’s basement that honors the career of the nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner. My father always joked about me being both a White Sox fan and a Santo fan, as Santo’s career ended rather unceremoniously as a member of the Pale Hose.

Santo joined the Cubs’ broadcast booth in 1990 as the WGN radio color commentator. His time in the broadcast both cemented the fact that he was one of the biggest Cubs fans in the world. My father, brother and I always enjoyed listening to the broadcasts, as he always brought shameless broadcast enthusiasm — from grunts and sighs when the Cubs were not playing well to cheers and applause when the team was winning. He brought certain intricacies to the booth that became beloved throughout the Cubs’ fan base, such as his inability to pronounce certain players’ names, his passionate hatred for Shea Stadium and occasionally forgetting how players reached a certain base.

I will never forget being 13 years old on Sept. 28, 2003 and watching a Cubs pregame ceremony at Wrigley Field where the organization retired Santo’s No. 10 jersey. Santo was the third Cub to ever have his number retired, joining the ranks of Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams (Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg have since joined). What I will remember the most about that ceremony is that Santo, who had been disappointed by Hall-of-Fame voting results multiple times, said with a certain honesty that having his number retired by his beloved organization was “his Hall-of-Fame.”

One of the major reasons I always respected Santo was due to his struggle with Type-1 diabetes. He learned of his diagnosis at the age of 18, but he carefully concealed that information until he acknowledged it publically when the Cubs held “Ron Santo Day” at Wrigley Field in August of 1971. Never using his disease as a crutch, even after having both legs amputated below the knee in 2001 and 2002, Santo endorsed the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s annual Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes in Chicago from 1974 until his death, and raised over $40 million for the foundation.

Even though Santo is gone, he will never be forgotten. I guarantee that a strong contingent of the Cub faithful will be making the journey to Cooperstown for his enshrinement this coming July and that is a beautiful thing because I am certain there is nothing he would have wanted more.

Contact Walker Carey at wcarey@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.