Cubs 101 - Pt. 11 - Ronnie
OK! Show of hands...which one of you is The Biggest Cub Fan in the World? Alright, those of you NOT named Ronald Santo, born in Washington state in 1940, put your hands DOWN.
One more pop quiz - who should be theeveryday "guest conductor" of the Seventh Inning Stretch? The marketing fools at 1060 W. Addison have forfeited their rights to pick appropriate guests, after the debacle that was Denise Richards(again...Denise Richards?!? Come on...what transpired theredeserves punishment that involves upside down hanging, permanent markers, Charlie Sheen and whatever bodily secretionsol' Carlos can conjure up at the time). But I digress, Ron Santo and ONLY Ron Santo should be singing "Take Me Out to the BallGame".
Now, onto what really matters - Santo in his playing days. The so-called "1969 Cubs", which was actually a team that finished no worse than third between 1968-1972, also finished no better than second. Of course the late 60’s – early 70’s team boasted three current Hall-Of-Famers, as well as 65% Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo.This is not a low swipe on the remaining original portion of Santo’s body that he still has dominion over, but, rather, the percentage he tends to end up with after the votes are counted. As we all know, the biggest argument behind the non-inclusion of nine-time All Star and Juvenile Diabetes sufferer Santo is that, for a team that won nothing, electing a fourth Hall-Of-Famer seems ludicrous. Many feel if it weren’t for the success of his three other teammates, Ronnie on his own merits would have been in there like a shot.
Well. At the time of his participation for the Cubs, Santo's accomplishments were overshadowed by Williams and Banks, despite his All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves. Considering the coverage he has received during his last four HOF near-misses, his constant presence on the radio, the documentary his son produced, etc, many would quite correctly state that Mr. Santo is over-exposed now. However, we feel that when discussing the greats of those Cubs teams, Ron Santo belongs in the conversation.
The first irony about my personal recollections of Santo was, although he is and was profoundly diabetic, the thing I enjoyed the most about him was the Ron Santo pizzas they sold in the stands. Santo has always dabbled in the restaurant business. But his first foray into food was the Ron Santo pizza, a very personal-sized wheel of dough slathered with some red sauce and a couple of bits of cheese and sausage that I would just stump for (no pun intended, again) upon entering the Friendly Confines until I was forcibly dragged out.
I’m not even sure if Santo was able to “enjoy” his product, because of his illness, but I sure did. I can’t even imagine what I would have to say about his pizza now – there’s a product at the stores called “Oscar Mayer’s Pizza Lunchables” that I believe resembles the late lamented Ron Santo pizza – but if we’re honestly recounting memories of the Cubs greats, I have to first and foremost disclose my love of Santo’s overpriced ballpark snack.
Most folks today either know Santo as the long-suffering monosyllabic drama boy who sits next to Pat Hughes every day on WGN Radio 720, or the equally long-suffering perpetual candidate on the Veterans Committee ballot for baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. Here in Cub World, Ronnie is most definitely a sympathetic figure, for how dare the egotistical dicksticks like Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt conspire to keep a withering double-amputee out of the Hall? I suspect in the rest of the baseball world, who hold statistical tables to be sacred screeds, Santo is regarded as a pathetic grandstander who is too dim to give up.
The truth is, as a player, and factoring his disease out of the equation, Santo was not as spectacular as Banks, or as dependable as Williams, or as dominating as Jenkins. I can remember several times he failed in the clutch, and although we all loved him, partly because of his outsized personality, or maybe because of the pizzas, we didn’t get the same feeling of security out of him that we did from Williams, Jenkins, or even second baseman Glenn Beckert and shortstop Don Kessinger. He put out maximum effort, and was a fiery, emotional leader. There were plenty of opportunities and occasions to “check the pulse” of the Cubs during this interval of near-greatness. If you wanted to hear the company line, check with Banks. If you wanted to test the true temperature, you found Ronnie Santo and asked him how he felt at the time.
Santo was an “alpha-dog”, which his manager Durocher seemed to appreciate publicly, but in private Leo, being an alpha-dog himself, frequently butted heads with his third baseman. One day in particular, in 1971, the sparks between the two ignited into a raging and destructive inferno.
It is still unclear who initiated the idea for Santo to have his “Day”, similar to ones enjoyed by Banks and Williams.We do knowthat Santo chose this day to publically disclose, after an 11-year career, his affliction with Type 1 diabetes, which at that point in time was basically a death sentence, and we also know thatall donations associated with the day went to diabetes research.It was an emotional day for Santo, which should be unsurprising to anyone who has heard one of his “broadcasts”. Will Brant Brown ever be able to escape “Noooooo! Noooooo!! NOOOOOOO!!!? But I digress, again. Anyway, as you can imagine, the “day” was set a long time in advance, and as luck would have it, the late August date fell in the midst of what was becoming an annual Cub swoon in a tight divisional race, and Durocher felt the team did not need this type of ceremony to deflect focus from playing on the field.
Durocher needed sensitivity training about as much as Santo needs to lay off of theventi mochaswith double sugar.When Leo suggested to Ronnie that the day was unnecessary, Santo, um,didn't take it well.This resulted ina clubhouse fracas, in the dog days of August, in the cramped environs of Wrigley, and factions formed. Recent acquisitions Joe Pepitone and Milt Pappas, both noted 'clubhouse lawyers', took up for Ronnie against Leo, while other players such as Jim Hickman stood up against what was construed as insubordination against management. The team’s already tenuous support of Durocher was further endangered, and according to some accounts, certain guys never spoke to each other again after Santo’s "day".
I did manage to ask Fergie about it recently. What I said was, verbatim, "Fergie, what really happened back on Ron Santo Day?" And he replied, verbatim, "Aw, you're not gonna get me to say anything bad about my good friend Ron Santo." Consider: what was asked, and what was replied, and draw your conclusion, if you wish.
I didn’t think in these terms at the time, of course, but thinking back, I guess I knew I was watching ‘greatness’ when I saw Banks, Williams, and Jenkins. When Stargell, Clemente, Gibson, Brock, Mays, McCovey and Aaron, Bench, Perez, and Seaver came into town, I knew we were in trouble. I honestly did not feel that way when watching Ron Santo. In my eyes, Santo’s overall presence, as a diabetic, as a polarizing figure on the “1969” team, as a controversial figure during his “day” or during his criticism of Don Young, and as the color man on the radio broadcasts and as, arguably, the biggest Cubs fan in the world - if you take the whole picture in consideration, his place in the game is large enough to warrant enshrinement. But solely as a player,all else being equal, he was very good, not great.
Buy Cubs baseball tickets from site sponsor Coast to Coast Tickets!