By Brittany Feagans [firstname.lastname@example.org]
“I know getting inducted into the Hall of Fame had to be something, but that flag is going to be hanging there after everybody is gone” — Ron Santo
When I was a kid, my dad would scold me every time I used the word “can’t.” Knowing “can’t” was not a swear word, I wondered why other kids were allowed to say it but I couldn’t. Reflecting on that memory, I realize he didn’t want me to think that I was incapable of doing anything– he did not want “can’t” in my vocabulary.
Ron Santo must have had a dad like mine. Either that, or he was simply born with the stubbornness and ambition that enabled him to prevail through the many physical hardships he faced. Anyone who enjoyed listening to Ron Santo’s colorful commentary on WGN Radio 720 knows there aren’t many topics taboo enough to avoid on-air. Failure, however, was one of them.
Despite being ravaged by health problems, Ronnie never complained. Being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 18 didn’t stop Ron from making Major League Baseball. AND Major League Baseball history. It was just something he had to learn to live with. In fact, Ron didn’t even make public that he suffered from diabetes until “Ron Santo Day” on August 28, 1971. He refused to let anyone tell him he couldn’t do something. For someone originally given a life expectancy of 25 years, Ron sure as hell persevered. From his perpetually cheery demeanor, you’d never guess he lost both legs to diabetes, suffered a heart attack, and fought bladder cancer. Oh yeah, and his mom and step-dad were killed in a car accident in 1973 on their way to watch Ron play in Spring Training. For the average person, these seem like an awful lot of reasons to complain. Ron, however, was far from average.
In his 15-year Major League career, Ron earned five Gold Gloves, 2,254 hits, and the admiration of millions. How he has not yet been inducted into Cooperstown is one of the biggest mysteries in the sports world. Even after Ron hung up his cleats for the last time in 1974, he remained an integral part of Chicago baseball. Although I never got to see Ron play, his enthusiasm in the broadcast booth is something I will always remember.
Many years after my dad first taught me about perseverance, we’d spend almost every summer day tuned in to WGN Radio to listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. No matter how bad my dad’s day at work was, or how heartbroken I was over a guy, listening to Ron and Pat never failed to put a smile on our faces. We’d look forward to long car rides, and plan them around Cubs games just so we could listen to WGN. I remember a few years ago when we decided to bring the boombox into the house, mute the TV, and listen to Pat and Ronnie. As long as we could hear Cubs baseball from the biggest Cubs fan there was, we didn’t mind the multi-second delay that existed between radio and television. Ron had a way of making you feel like you were right there with him, watching the game.
I believe that Ronnie is the reason why Cubs fans remain so optimistic despite year after year of disappointment. Ron instilled in us the belief that “this is the year.” He kept fans believing in a franchise when no one else would. There was no question in Ron’s mind that the Chicago Cubs will eventually quench their World Series drought.
Although he’s gone to the Broadcast Booth in the Sky, there is no doubt that Ron Santo’s ghost will continue his reign at Wrigley Field. After all, Ronnie has some unfinished business to take care of. Hopefully some of Ron’s optimism has rubbed off on the 2011 Cubs, so he’ll be able to check “World Series” off his list sooner rather than later. The only other thing Ron has yet to accomplish? Cooperstown.
On December 2, heaven gained a Hall of Famer. Earth just doesn’t know it yet.