This is a happy day and a sad day for all Cubs fans.
"Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo", as Pat Hughes always introduced him on WGN radio, has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the latest incarnation of the Veterans Committee; he'll be inducted on July 22, 2012, and perhaps others if anyone is voted in when the BBWAA balloting is announced next month. Ron received 15 votes from the 16 members of the committee.
It's a day for celebration because this honor is long overdue. I don't need to tell you that Santo is, and has been for many years, highly qualified for this honor; he was, at the time of his retirement, one of the top five or six third basemen in MLB history and even now, nearly 40 years later, he's still in the top 10. He has also, for quite some time, been the best player in baseball history not in the Hall.
It's a sad day because Ron died just over a year ago and is not here to enjoy this happy news with us.
Santo made no secret of his desire to be in the Hall. In fact, one of the reasons he decided to take the WGN radio gig offered to him in 1990 was that, after 15 years out of the game, he felt that the exposure might help him get inducted.
There are some, reportedly, who resented that and who might have worked to keep him out. I have no proof of that, other than stories I've heard, but if that's true -- shame on anyone who did that for that reason.
There are other stories that Santo's heel-click was something that opponents in the day didn't like. It's true that players didn't do that sort of thing in 1969, but compared to silly things done today like "BEAST MODE", it appears quaint and charming. He did it just a few times, and only after home victories. Nevertheless, some opponents apparently felt it was "showing them up" and have held grudges for decades. Shame on them, too. Santo did it because he was happy about winning, nothing more.
There are plenty of problems with the Hall of Fame induction process and it's not my purpose to discuss them here. Instead, let's celebrate the baseball career and exemplary life of Ron Santo; in addition to having a stellar career as a player, he was a tireless advocate for diabetes research and helped raise many millions of dollars for the cause. He did all this in spite of having the disease himself; it ravaged his body to the point of losing both legs, as well as a myriad of other health problems. If you have seen "This Old Cub" (and if you haven't, you should), you know he approached all of this with unfailing good humor.
His broadcasting career spanned 21 seasons, one of the longest in Cubs broadcast history; no, he wasn't a great analyst. Instead, he was a Cubs fan in the radio booth, groaning and moaning and cheering like the rest of us. He will be remembered forever for his "Oh, NOOOOOOOO!", yelled in Milwaukee when Brant Brown dropped that fly ball.
It is sad that Ron won't be around next summer to receive the honor he should have been granted years ago. Again, for that, Hall voters -- whoever they were in various incarnations -- should be ashamed.
But his family will be there. Three of his teammates and friends already inducted, Ernie, Billy and Fergie, will be there. I'd expect that thousands of Cubs fans will be there.
And we will remember. All of us who saw him play, who followed his career, who listened to him faithfully on the radio, will keep the memory of Ron Santo alive, and can now point to a plaque in Cooperstown as proof of his greatness, and to his enduring legacy.
Congratulations, Ron, for an honor long deserved, and better received now, than not at all. Don't be sad on this day because he's not here. He wouldn't have wanted that; last year, in eulogizing him, Pat Hughes reminded all of us to remember Ron with a smile. Do that on this happy day, and also, let's turn this into the biggest celebration the Hall of Fame has ever seen.