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Friday, December 3, 2010

Farewell To A Boy Of Summer

Some time last summer, late July, I gave up on my Cubs. Unlike my father, who has been suffering through Cubs fandom for over 70 years, I was a late bloomer. Thirteen and a half years ago, in a bout of "Now what?" after a divorce, I started paying a little attention to baseball. Suddenly, I was tuned into WGN just about every night or even heading out to watch a game on television. My family started making an annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field. For better or for worse, I became a Cubs fan.

But last July, my affections began to wane. Too many wasted opportunities, too many favorite players traded away who then excelled in their new hometowns - I'd had enough. When I woke up this morning, I did what I always do, checked my email, the weather and signed onto Facebook. Had a couple of new messages, including one from a Facebook group I'd joined, "Ron Santo belongs in the Hall of Fame." I figured the voting was kicking off again and nearly deleted it without a second look. Then my eyes caught, "Well, everyone, it looks like Santo has passed away." And that he did - former Cubs third baseman and longtime Cubs announcer Ron Santo passed away on Thursday, December 2, 2010.

The radio team of "Cubs legend Ron Santo" (as he was always introduced) and Pat Hughes was probably the thing that kept me tuning in even during the worst of seasons. In the years when I worked with two male colleagues who also followed the Cubs, we couldn't wait to get to work the next day to exchange the latest "Ronny-ism." A genuine fan and a hard-nosed player in his day, Santo's moans, groans and outbursts mimicked what the rest of us were experiencing in our cars, living rooms and backyard decks every time a Cubs player swung at the first pitch or made a stupid base-running error: "Awww JEEZ!" I often listened to the games by myself, but having Ron and Pat giggling alongside me made it feel like I was at a cozy neighborhood bar, watching the game with friends. Never mind that Ron often got distracted and missed a play - "Patrick, what just happened?" - or stumbled over his words while reading the faxes and emails that poured in. By the end of the season, I knew every time he was going to say, "And we thank you, Walgreens."

Santo could be like a mischievous kid, chuckling over someone's unusual name or behavior. Remember the summer they were so bored they had a Barbie in the booth and Ron would comb her hair? Remember Ronny screaming, "HE'S NOT HUMAN!!!!!!!" before any of us realized Sammy Sosa wasn't quite human, but probably steroid-enhanced? Remember his deep hatred for Bernie Brewer and the hilarious story of him trying to sneak a frozen yogurt at the Diamondbacks' stadium, only to be thwarted when the machine wouldn't turn off and yogurt came oozing out, uncontrollably?

I wish I had memories to share of Ron Santo's career as a Cubs player, but he left the major leagues in 1974, when I was just 8 years old and far away from developing a baseball passion. For a period of time, Ron Santo was a partial owner of a local restaurant chain and I ate there often with family and friends - I don't know if he had anything to do with the food but darn, I could go for one of those open-faced roasted chicken sandwiches right now. One Christmas I scoured an enormous, dusty antiques mall for Santo memorabilia to give to my baseball-loving friends. One summer day, while I waited in line for my pre-game bratwurst and soda, I saw Ron make the long trip up those precarious ramps at Wrigley, heading to the broadcast booth. People called out to him but he seemed subdued and a little uncomfortable, riding in a motorized cart, his grandson perched next to him. This was after his legs were amputated from complications from diabetes and that must have been quite a challenge to a player known for impishly clicking his heels or risking a dangerous slide into the plate.

Today, a man who made me laugh so many times made me cry instead and all I can say is my summers will never be the same. I prefer to remember Ron Santo not as a baseball player who didn't make the Hall of Fame, not as a radio broadcaster who somehow often managed to be at a loss for words, but as the ultimate fan of the game who refused to let serious illness and disability keep him from living life to the fullest and the best companion for sharing all the frustrations and occasional joys of being a Cubs fan.

Read the Wikipedia entry on Ron Santo
See the items about Ron Santo at DPPL
See the items about the Cubs at DPPL


  1. I met Ron Santo at a sports memorabilia shop in Waukegan this summer. He graciously autographed the ball I meekly offered him, and all I could say was, "Thanks, Ron." I would have liked to have said something like "thanks for the joy you've brought to baseball," but I didn't -- the line for autographs was a bit long -- so I'll say it again now: "Thanks, Ron."

  2. During a children's sermon at our church this fall, our pastor asked the kids if they had any heroes. After a few were mentioned, the pastor said his childhood hero was Ron Santo. He liked Santo's style of play and his personality on and off the field.

    A few weeks later, a Santo-autographed ball mysteriously materialized in the pastor's trumpet case. When he opened the box that contained the ball, his face lit up like a kid's does when opening a hoped-for present.

    I'm sure that Ron Santo brought smiles to a lot of kids -- including us "grown-up" kids. Thanks, Ron.


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