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2015 Spring-Training Countdown, Day 10: Ron Santo

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Ron Santo is beloved today. But things weren't always that way for The Old Third Baseman.

Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Of course, today is Ron Santo Day in the countdown. How could it have been otherwise?

Today, we remember Santo as a great player, a Hall of Famer, and also as a broadcaster who, though he often was tongue-tied, represented Joe EveryCubsFan in the radio booth, living and dying with the Cubs just as fans do. He's arguably more beloved for that and his 21 seasons on the air than he was for his playing career.

I commend you to the Top 100 Cubs profile I wrote about Ron almost exactly eight years ago. It stands today as a tribute to his complicated legacy as a Cub. When Santo was traded to the White Sox after the 1973 season, many fans thought, "Good riddance." Santo had declined in performance and his sometimes over-the-top rah-rah attitude rubbed some the wrong way in the buttoned-up, buttoned-down era in which he played. When he retired after one poor season on the South Side, many thought he was gone from baseball for good. Incidentally, among other things, he was the first player to reject a trade citing the recently-acquired 10-and-5 rights. The Cubs wanted to trade him to the Angels, but he didn't want to go out West; he made it known that he would accept a trade to the White Sox and that, of course, is what happened. It caused some wags to dub 10-and-5 rights the "Santo clause."

Santo should probably have been elected to the Hall of Fame shortly after he retired. At the time, he was probably the fourth- or fifth-best third baseman of all time -- remember, Mike Schmidt and George Brett were kids at the time Santo retired.

But he wasn't; in fact, he fell off the ballot after one year with just four percent of the vote. He (and some others) were then added back a few years later after complaints that several well-qualified candidates had been overlooked. When the Cubs came calling in 1990 to have him join the radio broadcast crew, he made no secret of the fact that he thought it might raise his public profile again and get him elected to the Hall.

The disappointment Santo felt when the Veterans Committee failed to elect him in 2003 is depicted in the film "This Old Cub," which I assume most of you have seen. If you haven't, you should -- the movie not only sums up his career, but his life in fighting diabetes. He took multiple health problems with unfailing good humor and that's something I daresay most people couldn't do. He became beloved, as I noted above, for expressing on the air the emotions all Cubs fans were feeling about each and every game.

The Cubs did start retiring numbers after Tribune Co. took over, but they were curiously reticent about Santo. I guess the thought was that they wanted to honor Hall of Famers only, but No. 10 should probably have been retired a decade before it was. Instead, it was worn by a curious selection of players and coaches following Santo, even up to the year before it was retired:

Al Todd (1940), Bill Myers(1941), Clyde McCullough (1943), Billy Holm (1944), Paul Gillespie (1945), Bob Scheffing (1946-50), Mickey Owen (1949), Ron Northey(1950-51), Bob Schultz (1952), Bob Talbot (1953-54), Richie Myers(1956), El Tappe (player and coach, 1958-59), Ron Santo (1960-73), Billy Grabarkewitz (1974), Mike Sember (1977), Dave Kingman (1978-80), Leon Durham (1981-88), Lloyd McClendon (1989-90), Luis Salazar (1991-92), Steve Lake (1993), Scott Bullett (1995-96), Terrell Lowery (1997-98), Bruce Kimm (manager, 2002)

It's just tremendously sad that both Ron and Ernie Banks won't be around to see the Cubs in the World Series, which I know we all think will happen soon. Of all people, those two would have been the happiest. I can see them both beaming even at the thought of it, smiling down as the rest of us cheer the team that makes it, as well as Ernie and Ron's legacies.