Ron Santo’s Induction

By Beacon Staff

It is unfortunate when laurels are awarded posthumously when they mean so much to the living.

But sometimes it takes a person’s death for people to realize how much someone accomplished or what that person meant to a community or team.

That was the case with the recent selection of Chicago Cub third baseman and radio broadcaster Ron Santo, who was named by the Veterans Committee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame two days and a year after his death.

While I am pleased somebody got around to it, it is just hard for me to believe it occurred on the 20th time he was up for consideration.

Now, I know I probably sound like a vanquished Cubs fan, which I can guarantee you I am not. I was a fan of Ron Santo for what he accomplished on and off the field, but probably more importantly how he did it.

A nine-time All Star third baseman and an MVP runner-up, Ron was quite simply a baseball lifer. Amazingly, 19 times he was considered for the Hall only to be cast aside.

Now I get it.

Such Halls are subjective and political in nature. But, while arguably just his 15-year numbers didn’t deserve first-ballot selection (he received just 3.9 percent vote in his first year of eligibility), you’d have a tough time explaining to me how he could be sidestepped for so long.

In a pitcher’s era in Chicago from 1960 to 1974, Seattle-born No. 10 batted a respectable .277 with 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs while manning the hot corner and earning a reputation as one of the game’s finest defenders.

Ron Santo was the complete package and he performed at a high level while quietly battling juvenile diabetes, which took a heavy toll on him later in life.

Such things were not common knowledge in those days. They were understood by just a few who hadn’t contracted the terrible disease.

Let’s face it, poking needles into your muscular build several times a day from an early age could imply weakness.

Even with artificial legs after both were amputated and failed organs, there was nothing weak about Ron Santo.

I was fortunate enough to meet him at HoHoKum Park, the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., years ago.

I love baseball and have a collection of autographed balls dating back to 1958 when my first job was selling popcorn at Spokane Indians stadium.

I spotted Ron standing in the first-base dugout and leaned across the concrete roof to get his attention.

At the time Ryne Sandberg, a Spokane native, was the big autograph to get so fans were clamoring for his attention and basically ignoring Hall of Famer Billy Williams and Santo, along with Ernie Banks, some of the greatest players in Cubs history.

I’d just begun my broadcast career at the University of Montana, had illusions of parlaying that gig to the Major Leagues, and politely engaged Santo about his broadcast career.

Initially quite polite, Santo spent about 20 minutes talking about the differences in the play-by-play of different sports, agreeing that there was just nothing like baseball because of the down time allowed for storytelling.

Now believe me when I say Ron Santo had a lifetime of stories and how he told them was as entertaining as their content.

As fans started to gather, finally realizing who he was, after signing a few autographs including a ball and a photo for me, Santo began to make his exit but not before a wink and a nod and a gracious thank you for the conversation and encouragement to “stay after it and live your dream.”

I only wish I could hear his words at the microphone in July when he would expound on how proud he was to be recognized as a Hall of Famer.