07/21/12 9:35 PM ET
Santo supporters flock to Cooperstown in droves
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
She didn't really know him, had just said hello at Wrigley Field a couple times. But that didn't matter. "He means a lot to me. It's really important to me to be here," she explained.
Jim Zabroske was there, too.
"I met him at Spring Training and got his autograph. Like they say, he would talk to you forever. And finally he said, 'They're pulling me away. I've got to go to work. I wish I could talk,'" he related. "I grew up with him. That's my team. I just had to be here when he got in."
Santo passed away on Dec. 2, 2010. But his spirit was alive and well under an open-air tent pitched on the shore of Lake Otsego. Several hundred fans gathered to celebrate one of Chicago's iconic sports figures.
Did we say celebrate? A large part of the event consisted of three of Santo's 969 Cubs teammates -- left fielder Billy Williams, second baseman Glenn Beckert and catcher Randy Hundley -- telling stories that sometimes made the event seem more like a roast.
They made fun of his toupee. They made fun of his competitiveness, telling tales of how he'd throw his bat when he made an out and tear up the deck of cards if he lost at poker. They made fun of his fondness for having a good time. Beckert was his roommate. "Can you imagine rooming with Ron Santo? Look at what it did to him!" said Hundley, pointing at Beckert.
The crowd loved every anecdote. One woman sat near the front holding up a sign that said "Perfect 10," a reference to his uniform number, with pictures of Santo making up the digits. That stood in stark contrast to the natural sadness that he hadn't lived long enough to enjoy the honor that he waited so long to receive.
Santo spent his entire big league career in Chicago. He spent 14 seasons with the Cubs, beginning in 1960, and played his final year with the White Sox. Following his playing career, he became an analyst on Cubs radio broadcasts for 21 seasons. Known for his unswerving loyalty to the team, he became a beloved figure.
Zinged Hundley: "It's a shame, but I want you to know he could not have handled it if he was alive." The fans responded with a laugh and an ovation.
Maybe if those 1969 Cubs had gone to the World Series instead of fading down the stretch, it would have been different. After all, three members of that club preceded Santo into the Hall: Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Williams. Maybe, the thinking goes, that the voters just couldn't cast their ballots for four players from a team that came up short.
On Saturday afternoon, nobody seemed to care about that anymore. When not having good-natured fun with their former teammate, they stressed what a good player he was. "He made a lot of great plays and that meant I didn't have to run as much," Williams said.
Sure, all those in attendance would have liked to see Santo honored earlier. Saturday, though, they were just happy that he was being honored at all.
Live coverage of the induction ceremonies on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.