By Frankie O
I could have made a lot of money this week, if I could have found someone to take a prop bet. It would have been easy. I had no doubt in my mind, that in the first election after his passing, Ron Santo would be elected to the Hall of Fame. Honestly, did you expect he wouldnt? Its just another chapter in his incredible journey that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. If you Google bittersweet, the first ten pages are Santo entries.
When I wrote about his death a year and one day ago, it was done so with a heavy heart and a sense of anger and disappointment that he left while still being denied something that he justly deserved and wanted so much. Validation. Especially from his peers. (At least they would understand better than writers, right?) Even at my advanced age, I did not see most of his career. As a young Phillies fan though, I knew most of the stars on the other Major League teams as I began my baseball obsession and he was one of them.
I could spend thousands of words here arguing on his behalf, but most of that would be statistical analysis on my part. That is where Hall of Fame considerations can become skewed. They are not a complete measure. Especially since baseball is considered a game of nuance, in which a connoisseur can see, and understand, more. In that regard there is the new Sabermetric tool known as WAR. (Wins against replacement) It measures the amount of wins a player is worth over a player coming up to replace him. (Dont ask!) It is a very popular tool used by many front offices in the bigs, including a certain group that has taken over the Northside. According to Baseball Reference.com, Santos career is worth 105 on their all-time list. There are currently 234 players enshrined in Cooperstown. You do the math!
Again though, to get lost in the numbers is to miss the point. Ronnie was more than that. He meant more than that. His being on this earth each day was a credit to his determination to live a life to its fullest, let alone to play a game. I still cannot fathom what it must have been like for him to be an athlete with diabetes. And doing it in a time when his maintenance was so primitive compared to today. Also primitive were the attitudes towards those with a disease, thus him having to hide it so long, for fear of not being able to play. What a burden to have to shoulder, every single day. My feelings are that having had conversations with doctors about the reality of his situation led to his unbridled enthusiasm towards life.
This is where Ron Santo has touched so many. His was a life full of passion. He shared that passion with anyone who cared to pay attention. So often we think we know what we see, but it isnt until we are able to go a little further that we can truly understand. Ive always imagined that leading a public life could be a bit of a pain. You cant escape anywhere. Everyone is watching. Ronnie was able to use this to the benefit of countless others. It was hard to be a baseball fan, and not know of his health issues as he got older. Also you knew that he was relentless in finding funding for JDRF. (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) Finding a cure for any disease takes money, a lot of money. But its also those going through it, to share with those that come after them, to provide hope and inspiration. As the father of a child with a rare illness, Im acutely aware of how unbelievably invaluable that behavior is. When you discover that something is wrong with your child, it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, winning the battle to drive you into the ground. But having someone who has been there, to share what your path forward is, and that it is difficult, but doable, is a godsend. I can only imagine how many families he has touched in a positive way with his time and candor. For that alone I am in awe of what he has done for diabetes awareness and JDRF.
Once again this week, I watched This Old Cub, the documentary on his life made by his son Jeff. The story weaves through his life up to the year 2003. It is a compelling portrait. The rawness of the video showing what he went through to walk as a double-amputee is as riveting as it is uncomfortable to watch. Almost as uncomfortable, was to watch as he received a phone call he didnt want to receive, one telling him he didnt make the Hall. But through it all is a view into the determined heart and soul of a winner. He doesnt whine or complain. He just does what he has to do and keeps on moving. His family is so fortunate to have such a heart-felt interpretation of him that will last forever. Included in that is his grandson. Their scenes together were nothing but love and joy. (It was great watching Ronnie combing the little ones hair, think he was jealous?)
So while I, like MILLIONS of others, am so disappointed that I wont get to hear his acceptance speech, Im not going to let it get me down. He showed me thats not an option. Im going to smile knowing that even after he is gone, hes providing his family, friends and fans with an opportunity to thank him for his lasting impact. In the end isnt that what matters most? That your time helped others, that you made this a better place? Its only fitting that from now on any reference to his name will be preceded by the moniker Hall of Famer. Because you know, where he is now, hes already been inducted.
It reminds me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Doc Graham has no interest in going to a place where dreams come true. Hes comfortable, and accepting, of what life gave him. An unbelieving Ray doesnt comprehend how a man could not want go back and get a second chance at his dream. Doc, like Ronnie, understood he served a different purpose. While undeniable is the pain that he didnt get to live a day as a Hall of Famer, dont consider that part of his life as tragic. If he hadnt been there to provide the positive inspiration he was, for so many people who needed it, now that would have been tragic. There are 234 (235!) Hall of Famers, but there was, and will be, only one Ron Santo.
R.I.P. Hall of Famer!!