Forever at Wrigley: Santo's statue unveiled
Cubs past and present join fans for emotional ceremony
CHICAGO -- Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins looked up at the newly unveiled statue of Cubs legend Ron Santo, took off his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye.
"It's a bittersweet day, but it's a great day," Jenkins said moments before the statue's unveiling in a pregame ceremony before the Cubs' game against the Nationals on Wednesday. "Ron Santo was the backbone of the Chicago Cubs. When you think about pitching, you wanted No. 10 on that right side of the infield.
"He dedicated his life to the Chicago Cubs as a player, a broadcaster, and most of all, a fan. He connected with all of us, because he was our fan. He was the beating heart of Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, and we will miss him dearly."
Jenkins was one of several former Cubs who traveled back to Wrigley Field to witness the unveiling of the Cubs' newest statue that honors the late Santo, who died last Dec. 3. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams were in attendance, along with Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley and members of the Santo family.
The majority of the current Cubs team also attended the unveiling ceremony along with hundreds of fans, who gathered at the corner of Addison and Sheffield to watch. Santo's statue is just the fourth at Wrigley Field, joining Banks, Williams and broadcaster Harry Caray.
The statue, which portrays Santo leaning to his right and throwing a ball from his usual post at third base, rests just feet away from Williams' statue.
|"He was the beating heart of Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, and we will miss him dearly."|
|-- Fergie Jenkins|
Santo signed with the Cubs in 1959, when he was 19 years old. The third baseman made his Major League debut June 26, 1960, and over 14 seasons with the Cubs was named to the All-Star team nine times and won five Gold Gloves. After 15 seasons in the Majors, Santo had a career batting average of .277 with 342 home runs (86th all-time) and 1,331 RBIs (87th all-time).
"He was such a clutch player, so determined," Banks said.
Santo played his entire career with Type-1 diabetes and eventually lost both of his legs to the disease. When he retired, he became an advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, raising over $40 million in his lifetime.
After his playing career ended, Santo rejoined the Cubs in 1990 as the color commentator for WGN radio broadcasts. He worked with play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes and created what became the "Pat and Ron Show."
"This spot, Wrigley Field, was simply his favorite place on earth," Hughes said. "No question. He loved Cubs fans more than words can say. He absolutely loved the Cubs organization."
Santo's wife, Vicki, spoke of her husband's love and dedication to the Chicago Cubs even as a broadcaster.
"After a loss, he'd come home and I'd try to make him feel a little better and say, 'There's nothing you can do about the result of the game. All you have to do is announce the game. You're the media,'" she said. "Well, he would turn and look at me and go, 'Vicki, I am a Cub.' That said it all."
Though Santo has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Cubs retired his No. 10 jersey in 2003 -- a day in which he said "This is my Hall of Fame."
"To see the look of joy on his face as his No. 10 was hoisted up on the flagpole, it was a look of absolute joy," Hughes said. "It was one of the happiest moments of Santo's life. I never thought anything could top that moment until this moment here. This would've been the topper."
Santo's son, Jeff, closed out the ceremony by describing an instructional video he found that his father made early in his playing career.
"He was giving a lesson on how to play third base, and he said this: 'When the ball is hit, you should always be moving forward on the ball. Never stay back on the ball and let the ball play you. You play the ball.' That's how he lived his life," Jeff said. "He never stayed back on the ball.
"Every challenge, all the adversity that came his way, he charged it like he was making a play at third base, grabbing it with his bare hand and firing it to first base."
Sam Zuba is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.