Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ron Santo

First, a few cards.

A Santo jersey card

A Santo bat card

Santo’s last card in a Cubs uniform. That looks like Leo Durocher in the background, which mean the picture was probably taken at spring training in 1972.

Now, some thoughts……

I’ve had a couple days to reflect on the passing of Ron Santo. Several bloggers wrote nice tributes. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to try and match them. Instead, I’ll just write what I’m feeling.

Many of the tributes included a sentence that said something like, “I was too young to see him play, but…” I’m 49 years old. I got to see him play. I saw him play hundreds of time on WGN and three times in person. My memories of Ron Santo are of him both as a player and as a radio announcer. And I have to confess, the memories aren’t all warm and fuzzy.

One important Santo fact that I haven’t heard discussed much with his passing is that he was the captain of the team during the Durocher era. Santo was loud, brash, and cocky. He was tough and he wanted to win. Those are the qualities you want in a team captain. But those same qualities can rub people the wrong way.

Growing up in a house full of White Sox fans, I can tell you that they couldn’t stand Ron Santo. In our house, he was known as “Pizza Belly” because of his size and the pizza restaurants he owned. I can remember many arguments over who was better, Ron Santo or Bill Melton. And since I was outnumbers four to one, you can imagine how those arguments went. When he was traded to the White Sox, it made for some interesting discussions.

Although I liked Ron Santo, he was #4 on my list of favorites, following Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Fergie Jenkins. Where Billy Williams also seemed to come up with the big hit, Santo was hitting into a double play. I looked it up at Baseball Reference, and low and behold, guess who is the Cubs all time leader for hitting into double plays; Ron Santo. But no matter what, he was a Cub and I was proud of his career. I would argue with anyone who wanted to listen that Santo was better than Bill Melton, Brooks Robinson, or any other third baseman in baseball.

He was traded to the Sox in 1974, retired in 1975, and then became a businessman. He became associated with Torco Oil Company and for several seasons, Torco had a billboard on a building on Waveland Avenue. But that was his only connection with the Cubs until he joined the radio team in 1990.

This Donruss card from 1981 gives you a peek at the Torco sign.

The time away from the Cubs meant there was a younger generation listening to the games that didn’t know him personally as a player. And by the time he died, more fans than not ever saw him play. They knew him only as a true Cubs fan, someone who let his emotions and feelings be known, good or bad.

Radio, his hall of fame quest, and his battle with diabetes made Ron Santo far more popular among Cubs fans now than when he played. It took me a long time to be able to understand that. But in the past few seasons, I’ve listened to a bunch of games on the radio and I came to appreciate and enjoy the Pat and Ron Show.

Cubs radio broadcasts will never be the same. They will never be able to find someone who can match the passion Santo had for the team.

I will truly miss Ron Santo.

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