Why Ron Santo matters
On the surface, it seems pretty cut-and-dried.
Ron Santo, longtime Cubs third baseman and radio announcer, died today at the age of 70, from complications of bladder cancer.
So why did it take me nearly an hour to type that sentence? It is because of my high esteem for the man, that I wanted to write something profound; but I ended up just keeping it generic, so I could just get past it. It is a huge part of my childhood dying.
Starting sometime in 1965, the Chicago Cubs started Ernie Banks at first base; Glenn Beckert at second; Don Kessinger at short; Ron Santo at third; Randy Hundley behind the plate; and Billy Williams in left. Every fourth day during that time, Fergie Jenkins would pitch. Some other guys would play in the outfield, and in 1970, Banks gave way, but through 1973, that lineup remained constant.
Now, I understand these guys never won anything in the standings. But there hasn't been another day-to-day continuous lineup like that for the Cubs since then. In fact, maybe except for the Big Red Machine of the 1970's has there been a team like that anywhere.
What's more, not only were the Santo-era Cubs long-lived in the day-to-day lineups, but they have been long-lived in real life as well. That main core, Santo and Kessinger, Beckert and Banks, Williams and Hundley and Jenkins were still intact, until today. They have been frequent visitors and contributors to Wrigley Field since their on-field breakup 37 years ago. Some as coaches, others as announcers, but they all reunite whenever one of their own are honored, when a number is retired.
Banks will be 80 next year; Williams 72; Jenkins, Hundley and Kessinger 68; Beckert, Santo's roommate on road trips, was born the same year as Ronnie. The point is, not only were these the Cubs of my extreme youth, but for over 45 years, this core of men have been a team, on the field and off. In my mind, and I am sure in the minds of all Cub fans my age, they are all one; and one for all.
It is amazing that they all have lived as long as they have; especially Ronnie, who had every excuse and reason to slow down and try to preserve himself, but would have no part in such a thing. Literally, parts of him were falling off - not just his legs, but his internal organs were one-by-one giving up on him. The physical Ron Santo was dying before our very eyes, but his soul, his great big Cub fan soul, would not rest until today. Players, coaches, and fellow media members could not honestly believe that he would keep dragging himself up to the booth, on flights, on road trips, in all types of April frost and July heat, to watch and describe what was frequently a poor product on the field.
He had no reason to prove anything, and I honestly don't believe he was trying to prove anything. Some say he kept coming out in a desperate, futile attempt to keep himself in the public eye for Hall of Fame consideration. There's an oxymoron for you there, "Hall of Fame consideration". Like the numbnuts in charge of casting the votes have had any for Ron Santo over the years.
That's crap. No, Ronnie kept going to games because he knew nothing else. He was a Cub, and a Cub fan, perhaps the greatest who ever lived. He was at the park for no other reason than it was where he belonged.
To me, more than Harry Caray or anyone else I can possibly think of: not having Ron Santo around anymore is just not going to feel right. He was, as always, where he should have been: the heart and soul of the Cubs.