08/09/11 12:38 PM ET
Wrigley statue to honor Cubs icon Santo
By Samuel Zuba / MLB.com
The Cubs will unveil a statue of Santo on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. CT on the corner of Addison and Sheffield streets to honor the third baseman and former broadcaster who died last Dec. 3 after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 70.
"There was no bigger fan of the Cubs anywhere in the world than Ron Santo," said Len Kasper, the team's television play-by-play broadcaster.
Santo was 19 years old when he signed with the Cubs in 1959. The third baseman made his Major League debut June 26, 1960, and over 14 seasons, he was named to the All-Star team nine times and won five Gold Gloves.
"Ronnie was the captain of the ballclub when I joined the team in '66," Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins said Monday of his teammate. "He was a die-hard player, loved to win, really competitive. I just think he went out and played the game the right way. ... He was a courageous individual."
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." They were a hit, as Santo's passion for the team resonated with fans, who could feel his joy and his pain.
Though they worked in different booths, Kasper developed an admiration for Santo.
"For me, it's on a very personal level," Kasper said. "He took me under his wing when I started with the Cubs in 2005. He basically said, 'You're a Cub now.' I spent a lot of time talking to Ronnie, and he was maybe the most inspirational person I've ever met."
Santo was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when he was 18 but kept it hidden for the majority of his playing career. He struggled with his health for a great deal of his life, ultimately losing both of his legs to diabetes. That never slowed him down, and his resilience inspired many. The Cubs players wear a Santo No. 10 patch on their jersey sleeves and also have T-shirts with "PASS10N" across the front, designed by one of the players who was inspired by Santo's love of the game.
"He's one of the toughest, if not the toughest, people I've ever met," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "He never complained about anything. I don't think anything ever bothered him. I think the only thing he actually ever complained about was if the beer wasn't cold enough."
Because of his diabetes, Santo became an advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, raising more than $40 million to find a cure through his walk-a-thon, golf tournament and other events.
"He had a lot of passion about him -- not just as a player, but as a person in general," said Dempster, who spent seven seasons with Santo. "Look at what he did for [the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation]. ... I was just so lucky to be around him for as many years as I did. I learned a lot from him, both about the game of baseball and life."
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). Though his numbers may appear Hall of Fame worthy, he hasn't been inducted.
"You think of the long history of this franchise, and he is right there with all the greats," Kasper said. "All of the Hall of Famers would tell you he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether or not he gets in, which I think he will get in, he's a Hall of Famer. Everybody who has watched him play would agree that if Ron Santo is not in the Hall of Fame, then I don't even know why they would have it."
Several of Santo's teammates will take part in Wednesday's festivities, including Jenkins, Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert, Ernie Banks and Randy Hundley. The Santo family also will attend and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch of the Cubs-Nationals game. Santo's statue will be placed near a bronze one honoring Williams, a Hall of Fame outfielder. The Cubs also have statues for Banks and broadcaster Harry Caray outside Wrigley Field.
On Monday, Bill Heller, 34, a lifetime Cubs fan and Chicago native, circled the spot where Santo's statue will rest, taking pictures and remembering the great No. 10.
"I know he'll see this," Heller said. "He's going to love it. It will probably rain on Wednesday -- that will be his tears."
Samuel Zuba is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.