Sad, sad news. Ron Santo passed away at the age of 70. Full details are here.
He never got to see the Cubs win the World Series. He never made it into the Hall of Fame. And there haven't been many people in the world that more desperately wanted both. That's the first thing I thought of when I heard he died this morning. I'm sure most Cub fans thought the same thing. That, and it's not going to be the same listening to the Cubs on the radio without him.
I met Ron once about ten years ago and he was very nice to me, but I don't claim to know him at all. I did, however, talk to a few people the past few years that were among his closest friends.
One of them was his broadcast partner Pat Hughes.
We discussed Ron...
Rick: Your chemistry with Ron Santo is really amazing—it’s like yin and yang. He is pure emotion—and you are the voice of reason. I’m sure that’s part of the secret to your chemistry, but there’s obviously more to it than that. It seems like you also have real affection for each other. Would that be fair to say?
Pat: Yes it would. We have amazing harmony, very few bad vibes. Forget baseball, he’s just an extraordinary human being. I’ve never met anyone like him. Beyond baseball, he’s an icon for diabetics everywhere. What he’s been through! What he’s accomplished! Ron’s an inspiration.
Rick: Have the two of you ever had a fight?
Pat: (laughs) Hell no. Anytime you work together as long as we have, you have a few minor little disagreements, but nothing bad. Never.
Rick: I used to love when you did the attendance game with him and you beat him every day. Even for something like that—his emotions were on his sleeve—he would get so upset. I know that’s what Cub fans love about him. As much as it hurts us to lose, we can hear in his voice that it hurts him even more. Do you ever worry that the strain of that is having a detrimental effect on his health?
Pat: I used to, but not anymore. The man is 70 years old. He’s had diabetes, and cancer. He’s lost his bladder and his legs. He’s gone through everything you can imagine. Why would you worry anymore? He’s like a superman, a man of steel. Plus, I think it’s better for him to get it out of his system, than to let it build up inside him.
Todd Manley was the WGN production director for years, and he beautifully captured the spirit of the Pat & Ron broadcasts in his promos...
PAT AND RON PROMO--A Steamy Fan
PAT AND RON PROMO--The Marrying Type
PAT AND RON PROMO--Snot
PAT & RON PROMO--I Dream of Jeannie
I also interviewed Andy Masur, his former colleague at WGN, now the play by play man of the San Diego Padres...
Rick: The years you were at WGN were a roller coaster ride for Ron Santo; from the lows of his health problems and the Hall of Fame snubs, to the highs of the day his number was retired, and the Cubs 2003 playoff run. Was that time an emotional time for the rest of you in the booth too?
Andy: First off, I must say, that Ron Santo is one of my heroes. Not for his play on the field, but for his work and passion off the field. He was a great player, no doubt, but he’s an even better person. Ron is one of the toughest human beings I have ever met. With all the physical problems he’s encountered over the past 8 or so years, I never once heard the man utter the words “why me?” Never. That’s a quality few people have. I think about Ron every day.
As far as 2003 goes, I’m just now finding that I’m able to talk about the year and how it started and finished. Ron’s Hall of Fame snub in February of that year was devastating to all of us in the booth. He really felt that it was his year. It didn’t happen. The Cubs played remarkable baseball that season, and I’ll never forget after they clinched the division with the double header sweep of the Pirates, how many of the players I interviewed in the clubhouse, were saying “this is for Ron”.
I remember the next day, when Ron’s number was retired, looking at the sign on the fence behind the bleachers in left field “Ron Santo a perfect 10” and thinking, this has to make him feel 100 feet tall. It did. An honor well deserved.
The shame of it all though, was Ron didn’t get to enjoy the playoffs in the booth. Another health scare kept him out, and all of us in the booth, from Pat to Matt Boltz, were devastated that Ron wouldn’t be with us. I’ll never forget Pat’s call at the end of the Braves series, “Ron Santo this one’s for you!”, I still seriously get choked up just thinking about it.
So to answer your original question, yes, it was a great year, but a very emotional year for all of us.
A few years ago the Associated Press did a story about Ron, and they interviewed me as part of the piece, to get a fan's perspective. Here's a portion of that article...
People around Santo have gone to him and suggested he "detach himself a little bit," said Bob Brenly, a former broadcast partner who is now an analyst for the team's television broadcasts. "But it's not in him," he said.
Even fans have taken notice.
"When he's not on the broadcast I'm actually worried about his health," said Rick Kaempfer, a lifelong fan who has a website (www.justonebadcentury.com) devoted to the Cubs.
Santo also has something that fans like Kaempfer value above everything else. Hope. No matter what happens, no matter how many years and how many ways the Cubs fail, Santo does not give up hope.
"I heard him talking about how the Rockies won 21 in a row a few years ago (at one stretch they won 21 of 22 games), hanging his hat on that, saying it could be us," Kaempfer said.
It is Santo's devotion to his team and his optimism that he will see the Cubs win a World Series title that helps explain the attachment that fans like Kaempfer have to Santo.
"It unifies Cub Fans," Kaempfer said.
What kind of a man was he to Cub fans? This story about meeting Ron in the summer of 1963 captures it about as well as any story I've ever heard...
As for me, I remember watching this game from the summer of 1970. The game he hit three home runs. Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd had the call.
That's the way I'm going to remember him.
Rest in Peace, Ron Santo. Cub nation already misses you. To be honest, I'm getting a little choked up just thinking about it.