Ron Santo - A Tribute
December 5, 2011
by William Szczepanek
Today, Ron Santo was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a little over one year from when he passed away. He joins the living legends from the Cubs' teams of the 1960s: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins in the Hall of Fame.
December 1, 2007
I will take some liberties in this submission to pay tribute to one of the most special players to ever wear a major league uniform, Ron Santo. Since this platform is generally dedicated to baseball cards I will state that the majority of Ron Santo’s baseball cards are nothing special. They do not capture the fire and intensity of the player and person. That is a disappointment to me since Ron Santo has been a special person in my eyes since I was a youngster.
There has been much speculation about whether or not Ron Santo should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Veteran’s Committee has slighted him over and over again. I can go into all of the statistics that make Santo one of the greatest third basemen of all time, but that been done by many already. His batting statistics are better than many of the second baseman in the Hall of Fame, but he doesn’t get credit for playing second base at the end of his career. He also doesn’t get credit for his hitting at a time when pitchers dominated baseball.
My memories of Ron Santo include more than his heel clicks after Cub wins in 1969, which are tame compared to the celebrations today. Celebrating a win is one thing. In football today celebrating a tackle when you’re down 35-0 is a product of our times. Ron Santo was the fire that sparked the Cub teams of his time. Most of the players on the 1969 team were pretty quiet and reserved. Ernie Banks never got mad and never argued with umpires. Kessenger and Beckert rarely stirred things up, but went about their business. Hundley was probably the closest to Santo as far as short tempers go, but didn’t erupt as often. Santo was that way because he cared intensely about winning and about playing up to his potential. He expected everyone to do the same. His character on the field won as many games as his bat and glove.
Ron Santo was one of the best fielding third basemen of all time. He was not as good as Brooks Robinson, who played during the same timeframe, but was very close. His ability to dive in either direction to smother line drives and come up with accurate throws has few equals. His errors came on plays that most third baseman would never have gotten a glove on. One of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen made by a third baseman was made by Santo. I can’t remember the game or the situation, but I do remember a line drive slammed over third base and Santo diving across the line to make the play. The ball was hit so hard and was so far behind him when he snared the drive that he rolled over and over again past the third baseline, much like an ice skater performing a spin, only he did it laterally while rolling on the ground. When he emerged from the dust still holding the ball his uniform was covered with dirt, not just the front, but the back and sides, top and bottom.
Ron Santo would probably win the “Dirtiest Uniform Award” if there were such a thing. Pete Rose would have to take a second. Santo had a habit that you don’t see anymore in the majors. Today most players wear gloves or use pine tar to make the bat sticky for a better grip. Back then players would pick up dirt and rub their hands to prevent the sweat from getting on their fingers so the bat wouldn’t slip. Santo would actually bend over and scoop dirt from the ground and rub it on his hands and wrists. Often he looked like Pig-Pen from the Charlie Brown Comics in the batters box.
With Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Fergie Jenkins all deserving Hall of Famers from that time it is a shame that Santo is not on the wall with them, since he played a roll in the greatness of each of them. We can talk about the diabetes problem and the courage that it took to do what’s he’s done under those circumstances, but those things totally aside, he is better than many who are already in the Hall of Fame. His personality comes out in his radio broadcasts and it’s not how he says things, but what he says that really matters. He calls it the way it is, and while he is dedicated to the Cubs, he does not hold back his disappointment when players do not play up to their potential.
Hall of Fame or not, Ron Santo is a person who many kids would do well to emulate, and that’s worth more than home runs and batting average. It’s even worth more than a plaque in Cooperstown.
Thank you, Ronnie.
August 4, 2009
Dig this. At my very first trip to Wrigley at age 10 in 1964 Ron signed my Rawlings glove. It was the only mitt I used all my life through playing with my own kids, etc. So, naturally the ball point signature wore off. Many of my closest friends knew I had a dream of asking Ron to re-sign the glove. So, 8 months after a severe stroke at age 49 permanently disabled me, my Cardinal fan buddies took me, wheel chair and all, to Wrigley Field for a game, and afterwards, they prevailed on one of the Andy Frain ushers to take my glove up to Ron's radio booth with the story. ‘Needles to say’ he signed it again for me and I can almost cry just typing about it. Plus, in the ensuing years since 2004 these same guys have presented me with a framed autographed color pastels portrait of Ron done, I'd say in his first couple of seasons as a pro, and an autographed copy of Ron's autobiography, For Love of Ivy.
So, I've got a shrine to Ron in my home office now.
Thanks. God bless! And, “Let's play two!”