Friday, December 3, 2010

RIP Ron Santo 1940-2010

My wife woke me up this morning, just like she does every morning before she leaves for work. It's usually, "Wake up, I'm leaving now. Have a good day. I love you."

This morning, she wakes me up with "Did you know that Ron Santo is dead?"

"What?" I mumbled as I got up in a rush. Sure enough, the usually jovial WGN Morning News team mentioned that last night, Ron Santo had passed away. And I was stunned.

Every article today mentioned his stats, his All-Star appearances, his Gold Gloves, so I'm not going to mention those. Many blogs and news articles about the man talk about how the writer feels that Santo has been unfairly snubbed from being inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame (and you can count me as one who thinks that he should have been...even if I never saw the man play). Many stories have already been recalled about how generous he was with his time, and how courageous he was to play the game being diabetic at a time when the technology to manage it wasn't around.

All I want to talk about this evening is about how kind enough he was to sign one piece of memorabilia for me. It's not a baseball, nor a card (even though the above card is autographed by Ron himself...from 2001 Topps Archives #73 of 150), not even a bobblehead doll (which I have, not autographed of course, but I still have one in a box somewhere in the house). None of those.

One night, the Friendly Card Finds (shout out to Brian Proulx...wherever you are), the baseball card shop by my work, announced that Mr. Santo was going to sign at the shop. Even though I don't really collect autographs, I thought that it would be really cool to see him in person. But what could I give him to sign?

Then it hit me. "How about my copy of The Complete Picture Collection of Topps Baseball Cards 1951-1990??? Brilliant. It's such a heavy book though...what does that matter. I'm going to meet Ron Santo!!!"

When the evening came, my wife, my two kids, and I drove over to the shop. The place was hopping. People buying cards for Ron to sign. Pictures cost x amount. Cards, a little cheaper. Balls were sold at x price (I don't remember...I didn't buy any of them). But here I was standing in line with this huge book, trying to find a good spot for him to sign his name. I still didn't find a spot until I was at the front of the line.

Brian introduced Ron to me, I shook his hand, told him what an honor it was to meet him...oh and here is what I have for you to sign sir. Here I was with this heavy blue book. The expression on his face was priceless. I don't think he had ever seen the book before. If you have never seen this book, it's basically a picture of every Topps card up to 1990. His eyes lit up as he was flipping through some of the pages. It was like he was looking at an old high school yearbook. He asked where I wanted him to sign, but I was speechless. I didn't even know. He flipped through until he reached the section of 1961 cards. At the bottom of the first page, he found it. A picture of card #35 from the 1961 set. His rookie card. He signed his name in blue sharpie below the picture.

I shook his hand, thanked him very much for the autograph, he even shook my wife's and kids hands (they're not going to remember any of it...but I'll tell them later that they met a legend), and left for another errand (which I can't remember where we went, but it was heading further west).

A month later, when I visited the shop again, Brian said that the book was probably the most unique thing that Ron Santo had signed that night.

I never saw Ron Santo play baseball. I've only seen pictures, and brief highlights of his home runs, and defensive plays. I only knew him as a broadcaster, who for 21 seasons, what seemed to be almost all the years I followed the Cubs and baseball in general, graced our radios with his voice. First with the team of Thom Brennaman and Bob Brenly (sure Harry was around then too), but eventually, with Pat Hughes. For fifteen seasons, whether the Cubs were winning or losing, it was always great listening to Pat and Ron broadcast the ballgame. Even if I only got a chance to listen to no more than fifteen minutes of the game, I enjoyed listening nonetheless.

I've been to a handful of Cub games at Wrigley. And I've seen many games on the television. But I always enjoyed listening to the game on the radio. Through good times and bad (and certainly there has been a lot of bad), listening to the voices of Pat and Ron made Cubs baseball an enjoyable experience.

And now, his voice has now been silenced. It's cliché to say that there will never be another one like Ron in the booth. One so passionate about the team (okay, that other guy on the south side that drives everyone nuts can be a possible exception), that you don't even need to know the just needed to hear the tone of his voice to tell if the Cubs were winning or not. But it's true. I don't think there is any radio station, any team in professional sports, who would be willing to hire a man in the mold of Ron Santo to be a color analyst. Not in today's game. Maybe that's a good thing. Because there will never be anyone like him. And listening to Cubs games will never be the same.

My condolences go out to the Santo family, the Cubs organization, Major League Baseball, and the fans. Not just Cubs fans, but all baseball fans. We have lost a legend.

(cue ethereal piano music)

But somewhere, maybe in Iowa, a 20-year old kid from Seattle, Washington, is making his way to a baseball diamond built in the middle of a cornfield, taking his place among the spirits of the game for the very first time.

God bless you, Ron Santo. Enjoy playing in your Field of Dreams.


JayBee Anama


TDLindgren said...

Very nice tribute JayBee, fitting that you would include your Topps experience with him.

Santo was my first favorite player as a young kid and my hope is that Topps and the Cubs honor him this year in some way. I would love Topps to reprint some of his cards and give them away at Wrigley Field like they did in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Also, would love for the Cubs to honor him with a statue.

Thanks for the wonderful write up!

Jim from Downingtown said...

That's a great story Jay!