Wrigley Field, Friday, December 3, 2010. Photo by Al Yellon
According to the Chicago Tribune website, Santo went into a coma on Wednesday and passed away on Thursday night.
For those of us who grew up in the era when Cub icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Santo led the team achingly close to the World Series we all wanted -- and still do -- this is tremendously sad news. Ron Santo played baseball with passion and skill; he was the best third baseman of his era and for a time, in 1966 and 1967, arguably was among the top players in the game at any position.
He did all of this while suffering the effects of juvenile diabetes, which he kept secret from all but a few close friends and teammates until 1971, when it was revealed on Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field on August 28. Traded away when the team was broken up, his heart appeared no longer in the game. His talents faded after one sad year with the White Sox; he retired after 1974.
Sixteen years later, he became the Cubs radio color commentator, first with Thom Brennaman and then Pat Hughes. His style was unique -- it wasn't for everyone, but you could tell with every game that his passion for the Cubs as a broadcaster and fan was the same as it is for every one of us. He exulted in victory, was crushed in defeat. And during this time, he suffered health problems including the amputation of both his legs. As shown in his son Jeff's fine documentary "This Old Cub", he faced these things with unfailing good spirits. I say with no hesitation that I admired Ron Santo for his play when I was young, and then again for the way he faced life's adversities. The Yiddish word for this kind of person is "mensch." Ron Santo was, without a doubt, a mensch, a wonderful human being. I finally did meet him briefly in the press box in Mesa last March, when I was speaking to Pat Hughes about the article he wrote for last year's Maple Street Press annual. Ron was kind and gracious, as was Pat, who always had gentle good humor with Ron. It was a broadcast team that felt like family.
There is absolutely no question that Ron Santo should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame a very long time ago. He is one of the five or six best third basemen in baseball history. Santo mentioned many times that he did not want to go into the Hall posthumously, and I hope the Hall voters now respect his wishes.
They ought to be ashamed, every one of them, for not giving this good man and great player this honor while he was still among us. When Santo's No. 10 was retired on Sept. 28, 2003, he told the sellout crowd at Wrigley, "This is my Hall of Fame." The Cubs and Cubs fans knew how to honor one of their own, even when those in Cooperstown who should have known better failed. During the 2003 playoffs, when Santo was too ill to broadcast, the players hung his No. 10 jersey in the dugout, a sign of how much respect everyone -- and I mean that literally -- had for this man.
We are sad at the passing of Ron Santo today, but don't let your sadness take away your fond memories of this fine man. Smile when you think of his impassioned "Oh, NOOOOOOOOOO!" when Brant Brown dropped that ball in Milwaukee, or if you remember home runs he hit when he was playing, or the love of the Cubs he brought to every single radio broadcast he made.
For more on Ron, here's the Top 100 Cubs profile of Ron Santo I wrote in 2007.
RIP means "Rest In Peace". And for Ron Santo, I truly mean that. Sincere condolences to Ron's family and friends, and to all Cubs fans who mourn his passing.