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Vicki Santo: Ron was "a guinea pig" playing with diabetes

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Vicki Santo: Ron was "a guinea pig" playing with diabetes

Some will argue that Ron Santo doesn't deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because his career statistics aren't eye-popping.

Sure, he never reached 3,000 hits or 500 home runs. He never won an MVP Award and hit .300 or above in just three of his 15 seasons.

But he is also the Cubs' franchise leader in Wins Above Replacement (WAR, since 1900) and faced a Hall of Fame pitcher in 12.62 percent of his plate appearances.

Santo's numbers are even more impressive when you consider he played his career with diabetes and kept it a secret the whole time.

"That was something," longtime teammate Fergie Jenkins said in Cooperstown this weekend. "Nobody really knew until he wanted to tell individuals. Players suspected something. He was always eating candy bars halfway through a ballgame and had Cokes and that.

"They found out later he was diabetic. His roommate, Glenn Beckert, knew and Santo wanted to tell the players later on in his career. He wasn't suffering from it. He played with it and he was able to do a great job."

Santo hid his diabetes for more than a decade. Beckert tells the story often -- including at Saturday's Fan Fest in Cooperstown -- that he once walked into his and Santo's room and saw the Cubs third baseman injecting a needle into his behind in the bathroom.

As Beckert tells the story, he was hitting poorly at the time while Santo was hitting well over .300. So Beckert said "Rooms, whatever that is you're taking, gimme some of it."

The disease eventually claimed both of Santo's legs and unlike athletes nowadays -- such as Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- Santo couldn't just test his blood sugar anytime he wanted. This was the 1960s and '70s. Things like a glucometer just didn't exist back then.

"You see, long before technology and science caught up to diabetes, Ron Santo was as much a guinea pig as he was a baseball player," his widow, Vicki, said in her induction speech Sunday. "On a given day, he played doctor and patient as well as third base."

"He tested his sugars by taking grounders. He checked his glucose levels by taking grounders. He gauged the amount of insulin he would need by running the bases. This was all before the game even started.

"His prescription was often a candy bar or a glass of orange juice, never letting on that his sugars were low or telling his teammates about his daily injections. But without the difficulties, what value would have been his physical gift? What meaning would have been the journey?"

Vicki said that Santo hid his disease for so long because he was afraid they would take baseball away from him. After his playing career was over, Santo became a huge advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), raising more than 65 million.

Vicki spent much of her speech focusing on all Santo did for the cause during his life, but Cubs fans knew little about how much it actually affected him on the field.

"Ron told this story many times about an afternoon at Wrigley Field when he was really struggling. The low sugar came over him very quickly, as it sometimes did," she said. "Suddenly, he found himself in the on-deck circle.

"Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert had already reached base. Billy Willams was at the plate and Ron's sugar was really low. It got so bad, that Ron was hoping Billy would just strike out so he could end the inning and get back to the dugout for a candy bar.

"But Billy walked to load the bases. Now Ron really had a problem. His vision was blurry and he was weak. His plan was to hit the first pitch, but he didn't count on seeing three balls coming to him. So he picked the middle of the three and swung hard."

The end of her story brought the crowd at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown -- Cubs fans, Reds fans and just pure baseball fans -- to applause and awe:

"He did it -- a grand slam."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

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Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Milwaukee the biggest NL Central threat to the Cubs?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Milwaukee the biggest NL Central threat to the Cubs?

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Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: