Baseball family mourns loss of Santo
Chicago icon remembered for his optimism, love of Cubs
Ron Santo was remembered around baseball Friday as a Cubs fan above all, not just as a Cubs player or broadcaster. Santo died Thursday night from complications of bladder cancer at age 70."It's a crying shame he didn't live to see himself in the Hall [of Fame] or the Cubs in a World Series," said Cubs fan Don Parker of Warsaw, Ind. "It's a bigger loss than most Cubs fans realize. "The '69 team was my favorite," Parker said. "Santo was great not only because of what he did for the Cubs as a player and a broadcaster, but what he's done for the [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation]. He's a special dude." Parker and his wife, Jan, were on the Cubs' fan trip to the Dominican Republic, where news of Santo's death spread fast.
"I am truly saddened by the loss of my dear friend Ron Santo, who represented all the goodwill of baseball and the Chicago Cubs franchise," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "He was a magnificent, consistent ballplayer -- a nine-time All-Star, a great power hitter and a five-time Gold Glove winner. Ron's playing and broadcasting careers shared a common thread: in both capacities, he was a staple of the Cubs' experience every single day. I enjoyed our many phone conversations and all the times when I visited him in the booth at Wrigley Field and during Spring Training."
Santo had quite a life. It was charmed, for sure, playing 15 great seasons in Chicago, 14 of those with his beloved Cubs. But it was challenging, too. Santo played and later called Cubs games on radio while managing his diabetes, a disease that would eventually cost him both lower legs. Later in life he had heart trouble and needed a quadruple bypass. Then, Santo battled bladder cancer, to which he finally succumbed.He never complained. That's what former Cubs star and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson will remember about Santo. "There was always a smile on his face," said Dawson, who works as a special assistant for the Marlins. "Being around the game, with his condition, is what just really made him happy. He loved the Cubs. He loved broadcasting. I just never really heard him complain. He was always smiling. "He was definitely one of those people who was an icon among Chicago athletes and personalities. I honestly feel that someday he's going to get into the Hall of Fame. But the sad thing is, with his struggles, he will never get to enjoy one day of it." Dawson remembered the way in which Cubs fans turned their love from longtime broadcaster Harry Caray to Santo after Caray's passing in 1998. Santo was already held in high esteem for his 14 years as the Cubs' third baseman, a tenure that included nine All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves. Santo came closest to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 2007, when he fell five votes short from the Veteran's Committee. His last year of eligibility was 2008. Rangers club president Nolan Ryan was a big supporter of Santo going into the Hall of Fame and had voted for him in the past. "I thought if you compared his numbers to other people who played that position, he was deserving of the Hall of Fame," Ryan said. "He was always a tough out and a good competitor." Of Santo's passing, Ryan said: "It's sad. He had a number of ailments but he kept battling and continued to work. That showed his passion for the game." Santo had plenty of proponents for his Hall of Fame bid. Among them were some fellow broadcasters, such as the Brewers' Bob Uecker, the Reds' Marty Brennaman and the Astros' Milo Hamilton, each of whom has a place in Cooperstown's broadcasting wing. "I was on the old-timer's committee for a long time and the real crime is they'll probably put him in Cooperstown now that he can't enjoy it, when he should have been in there five, six, seven, eight years ago," Hamilton said. "Some of the excuses are 'Ernie Banks is in there and was a teammate, Ferguson Jenkins is in there and was a teammate.' Well, that didn't hold water for me." Hamilton helped keep Santo's hopes up. "I was as guilty as a number of guys were," Hamilton said. "We led Ronnie down a primrose path and told him, 'This is going to be the year.' It broke my heart three or four years ago when he had his whole family around him and he knew this was the day was going to get the call. And again he got thrown under the bus. He was a terrific player, a great person and he's a big name in Chicago." Three of Santo's teammates from the Cubs teams of the late 1960s did make it to Cooperstown -- Banks, Jenkins and Billy Williams. Williams, who was along for the Cubs' trip to the Dominican Republic, was stunned by the news. "I thought he was going to live forever after all the tragedies and stuff he's gone through," Williams said. "It's hard to believe that all of a sudden you get a call this morning -- a guy you've known for so long has passed away. "In baseball, there's so many ups and downs," he said. "Man, it was sad to hear that. ... People who listened to Ronnie and Pat [Hughes on WGN Radio], they're going to miss that. [Santo] kept a lot of people laughing through his radio analysis. He and Pat were there every day at 1:20 [p.m., when the games started at Wrigley] ... When you listened to them, you didn't have to know the score. If he's in that mode [when he moans], you know we're losing." Santo never apologized for that emotional on-air style. "And he never should apologize," said Brewers radio broadcaster Cory Provus, who worked very closely with Santo as the Cubs' pre- and postgame host in 2007 and '08. "That's what Cubs fans want. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo make such a great team, because if you missed any analysis, Pat was there to pick it up. "Ron was vital. Cubs fans wanted to hear Ron Santo be Ron Santo. They didn't want to hear somebody say, 'Oh, he hung a breaking ball.' That's what a lot of guys say. Ron was different. He was genuine, he was pure." And now he's gone. "To me, he embodied what the Cubs have been all about," said Brennaman, the longtime Reds broadcaster. "There is no greater fan of that Chicago Cubs team than Ron Santo was. The saddest thing of all is that he passed away never having gotten into the Hall of Fame, which he should have been long ago. It really won't be the same this coming year and the years to come when the Reds and Cubs hook up not seeing him in the booth next to me." Said Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall: "It's like losing a family member."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. MLB.com reporters Carrie Muskat, Joe Frisaro, TR Sullival and Brian McTaggart contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.