Monday, December 5, 2011

Ron Santo

I am a life long Cardinal fan, having grown up in the orbit of the Cardinals, a place where baseball is a religion. When I first moved to Chicago, being a baseball fan, I began to listen to the Cubs radio broadcasts and couldn't believe what I heard. Ron Santo was the color man in the broadcast booth, and was, without question, the single worst radio broadcaster in history. He was laughably unable to describe what was happening on the field, and was often reduced to making tortured guttural noises during big plays.

In short order however, I became a huge fan. It quickly became obvious that his passion for baseball and the Cubs was remarkable and that he was a genuinely good and decent guy. He wasn't about the details on the field, he was about the passion of the game. I began to learn about his many charitable activities and his willingness to help with any good cause, not the least of which is raising money to fight diabetes, an illness he suffered from his entire adult life.

Santo put up really strong numbers throughout his career, was one of the top power hitting infielder of his era, the era of the pitcher, was on nine all-star teams, and won five consecutive gold gloves. He did this all while suffering from a disease that make most of it's victims invalids at an early age - and he didn't reveal during his career that he had this terrible disease, not wanting people to think he was making excuses if he had a bad day. Diabetes is a brutal disease today even with modern medications, but when he played fifty years ago, the medical treatment available was minimal, making his achievements all the more amazing.

His numbers were better than many infielders in the Hall of Fame, he was one of baseball's great ambassadors for decades, raised more millions for charity than almost any athlete in history, and, though it seems counter intuitive given my initial impression of his broadcast skills, was a effective and beloved radio announcer for many years.  Yet, in his lifetime he did not get the honor of being elected to the Hall of Fame, mainly because of an old timer's committee of Hall of Famers who didn't elect a single player to the HOF during their long tenure.

Late in life he had both legs amputated because of diabetes, yet continued to make it to every game, continued to revel in his passion for baseball. A movie and a book about his battle against the disease and his determination to embrace his love of baseball regardless of the pain and discomfort would bring tears to the eyes of the hardest hearted among us.

Santo was finally elected to the Hall of Fame today by a new HOF committee that is more concerned with fairness than exclusivity. It would be lovely if somehow, in the next life, he knew about this honor. In any event, even to a Cardinal fan, Ron Santo has long been a member of the Hall of Fame of Humanity.

Read more:      Ron Santo Elected to Hall of Fame     Bruce Levine
Read more:      Happy, Sad Ron Santo Finally Gets Call     Nick Pietruszkiewicz