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


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."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

1. Get production from receivers not named Allen Robinson. 

Robinson can expect to be followed all game by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s limited opposing receivers to nine catches on 20 targets in his last three games (a sampling of those receivers: Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark). So if Robinson isn’t open, it likely will have less to do with his own play and more the play of one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. 

With that in mind, Sunday will be a significant test for the Bears’ other pass catchers. This team’s offensive identity was supposed to be steeped in an ability to spread the ball around to guys like Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton, but so far this season, the only thing the Bears have proven to do well is get the ball to Robinson. That absolutely has to change on Sunday. 

Miller feels primed for a breakout game after ditching his shoulder harness, while Gabriel is back from a concussion suffered on the final catch of his explosive three touchdown game in Week 3 against Washington. Those two guys need to show up, and the Bears need to better scheme plays for Cohen, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per touch — lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains calling the plays. 

Robinson still could have a productive day — he’s that good — but the Bears shouldn’t count on it.

2. Hold your own against the Saints’ front. 

The Saints are outstanding at affecting quarterbacks without blitzing, with their 76 pressures ranking second in the NFL — this for a team that’s only blitzing on 22 percent of its defensive snaps. And of those 76 pressures, 63 have come from defensive linemen. 

Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have been monsters this year, combining for eight sacks while consistently generating that pressure off the edge. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will need need to have their best games of 2019 to keep them away from Mitch Trubisky, but the interior of the Bears’ line will have its hands full, too. David Onyemata, Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins all have at least one sack, putting an onus on Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward and/or Ted Larsen to keep those guys out of Trubisky’s face.

If not, Trubisky will have a difficult time getting comfortable and going through his progressions, which could lead to some forced/panicked throws...which could be jumped by Lattimore or another one of the Saints' defensive backs.   

3. Get game-wrecking plays on defense.

The thought here is Sunday’s game will be a tight defensive battle, with the game swinging on which team gets a turnover deep in its opponent territory. For the Bears, that means coming up with the kind of game-wrecking play (or plays) we’ve come to expect from this defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked on only 16.7 percent of his drop-backs (24th, per PFF), though, with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead among the best pass blockers at their position in the NFL. It’ll be a fascinating matchup for Khalil Mack, who will need to be at his best to beat the Saints’ best and “sack the football,” as he’s so good at doing. Or maybe Sunday is time for Eddie Jackson to get his first interception of the season (though he’s only been thrown at about two times per game, down from his average of nearly three times per game in 2018). 

However the Bears’ defense does it, they need to do it in a game in which their offense very well could struggle to move the ball. 

Prediction: Saints 13, Bears 9. 

While the Saints will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, star do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara and reliable tight end Jared Cook, this is a team should have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense (the Bears, of course, will be without Akiem Hicks and might start a greenhorn at right guard in Coward). That advantage matters greatly in close games, in which grinding out a few yards here and there will become critical, especially in the fourth quarter.

And too, Sean Payton has built a strong coach of the year case for how he’s guided the Saints to an undefeated record without Brees. The Saints are playing a strong brand of complementary football, with a ball security-based offense and a defense that’s progressively got better this year (punter Thomas Morstead, for what it’s worth, is outstanding and shouldn’t be completely overlooked). 

So the Saints will arrive at Soldier Field undermanned, but with an advantage at the line of scrimmage and on the sideline. And those will be enough for New Orleans to emerge with a win, sending the Bears to 3-3 in the process. 

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Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with's Luke Johnson

USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with's Luke Johnson

JJ Stankevitz is joined by New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Luke Johnson to preview Sunday's game at Soldier Field, starting with why the Saints have been able to keep winning without Drew Brees (1:29). JJ runs his concerns about the Bears' offense going against the Saints' defense by Luke (4:28) before getting into how New Orleans is viewing Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Chicago's lagging offense (8:17). Luke then explains the impact of Alvin Kamara's absence (10:40) and why Teddy Bridgewater has been so effective since tagging in for Brees (14:55).

Listen here or via the embedded player below: