Cubs

Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

337154.jpg

Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
7:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

If it is only a game, and just a baseball team, then why did Ron Santo believe it kept him alive all these years?

Santo meant more to people around Chicago than an All-Star third baseman or a radio announcer should. But there may never be a more unique match between athlete, city and team.

You noticed it with the small, spontaneous gestures around Wrigley Field, the We love you Ron messages at Gate G, the chalkboard outside a Clark Street bar that simply read 10 You will be missed.

You could see that on the weeping faces at Holy Name Cathedral, where one flower arrangement at the altar formed the Cubs logo. It was a kind of religion for Santo, an addictive mixture of faith, optimism and frustration that he shared with fans who never met him but still felt like they knew him.

Sun hit the stained-glass windows Friday as Santos extended family gathered beneath the arched ceilings of the big Catholic church on State Street. They celebrated the unbelievable life of Santo, who died last week at the age of 70 from complications with bladder cancer.

Monsignor Dan Mayall woke up that morning and injected himself with insulin. As a boy, he played catch with a Wilson 2170 glove that had Santos named inscribed on it.

The ballplayer became a hero when Mayall, at the age of 19, learned he had diabetes, and realized there was someone else showing you can live well with the disease.

If we miss him now, wait until we turn on the radio for that first pitch in Mesa in March, Mayall said. Ron Santo is the poster boy for joy. Ron Santo had an overdose of hope. Ron Santo lived on courage.

Santos old teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert served as pallbearers and helped wheel the casket down the aisle. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and WGN Radios Pat Hughes gave eulogies at a service carried live on television.

Ron was so in touch with the fan base that at times he can describe what was happening on the field without using actual words at all, Ricketts said. Every moan and groan, every shout for joy, we knew exactly, exactly what Ron was saying. Ron was truly the beating heart of Chicago Cubs fans.

An example to others

That pulse drew many Cubs employees to the funeral, from the stadium workers to general manager Jim Hendry to manager Mike Quade to team president Crane Kenney.

Current and former players were scattered throughout the pews: Ryne Sandberg; Gary Matthews Sr.; Ryan Dempster; Ted Lilly; Kerry Wood; Sean Marshall; Tom Gorzelanny; and Koyie Hill.

Broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly along with the radio and television crews that produce the games paid their respects. So did Sen. Richard Durbin and Jesse Jackson. But Santo wasnt defined by famous friends.

Hughes explained how Santo shrunk the distance from his audience. Santo, who lost both his legs, would meet amputees and give them the names and numbers for prosthetics professionals. He would read his fan mail before games and call complete strangers.

Ron Santo had time for everybody, Hughes said. Parents of diabetic kids would bring their children into the booth and Ronnie would just say, Hang in there, kid!

You got to watch your diet. You got to watch your blood sugars. Listen to your doctors. Youll be ok. Youll live a good life. I have so can you. And the kid would always walk away feeling a little bit better.

Hughes, a graceful, gifted storyteller with a smooth voice and an eye for details, breezed through an 18-minute eulogy that filled the room with laughter. At times, hanging with Santo must have felt like being in a Seinfeld episode.

It didnt matter if you heard it before Hughes was rolling with stories about his partner for 15 years. There was the time they stood up for the national anthem at Shea Stadium and Santos toupee caught on fire when it touched an overhead heater. So Hughes dumped water all over it.

There was the yogurt machine at a media dining room in Phoenix with specific instructions that Santo ignored: Do not turn on until game time. As the yogurt kept pouring out and would not stop, Hughes said, Ronnie did what any true seventh-grader would have done he ran away.

When the Cubs retired his No. 10 an honor he considered his own Hall of Fame induction the state of Illinois declared Sept. 28, 2003 to be Ron Santo Day. The proclamation came on a fancy piece of paper that resembled a college degree.

Santo had it up in the booth and proceeded to spill eggs and coffee all over it, before reaching to grab it as a napkin. There was a boyish quality to him even as he became a grandfather.

I would just like to ask you a favor, Hughes said. However you remember him, please do so with a big smile on your face. He would have liked that very much.

A voice that cannot be replaced

Santo could be as sweet as the candy bars the trainer used to keep on the bench whenever he needed a boost to fight the condition he kept secret. He succeeded in his post-playing career without the malice or cynicism often found in modern media.

The teams next radio analyst wont be able to get away with the same mistakes on air, and future Cubs managers wont have to console him after losses like Jim Riggleman and Lou Piniella once did.

Santo was a character with a style all his own. Wood remembers sitting down with him a few seasons ago for an interview before a game in Houston.

He started out: Im here with Chicago Cubs pitcher and he just got locked up, Wood recalled. It was early in the morning and he had a cocktail or two the night before. I (go): Ron, its been 10 years. So he starts over, gets the name right, and then he says, Here in Cincinnati...

But the connection to the players he rooted for so hard became so strong that after clinching a 2003 playoff series win in Atlanta, Wood made a point to call Santo from a hallway outside the clubhouse before he could begin popping champagne.

At once Santos legacy is both simple and complex. Some never saw the player who won five Gold Gloves and only heard him on the radio. Others argue that he should be in Cooperstown. Everyone can respect the more than 40 million he helped raise for diabetes research.

In the end, Santo approached everything with the determination Hughes described in this scene: To climb up the steps of the team's charter jet, Santo would grab the rail with his left hand, use the walking cane in his right and bounce up into the cabin.

John McDonough the Blackhawks president and former Cubs executive who helped make Santo a radio star read from the Bible a passage (2 Timothy 4:6-9) that captured a man seemingly without regrets. There will never be another Ron Santo.

The time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.