Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

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Chicago celebrates Ron Santos unbelievable life

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
7:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

If it is only a game, and just a baseball team, then why did Ron Santo believe it kept him alive all these years?

Santo meant more to people around Chicago than an All-Star third baseman or a radio announcer should. But there may never be a more unique match between athlete, city and team.

You noticed it with the small, spontaneous gestures around Wrigley Field, the We love you Ron messages at Gate G, the chalkboard outside a Clark Street bar that simply read 10 You will be missed.

You could see that on the weeping faces at Holy Name Cathedral, where one flower arrangement at the altar formed the Cubs logo. It was a kind of religion for Santo, an addictive mixture of faith, optimism and frustration that he shared with fans who never met him but still felt like they knew him.

Sun hit the stained-glass windows Friday as Santos extended family gathered beneath the arched ceilings of the big Catholic church on State Street. They celebrated the unbelievable life of Santo, who died last week at the age of 70 from complications with bladder cancer.

Monsignor Dan Mayall woke up that morning and injected himself with insulin. As a boy, he played catch with a Wilson 2170 glove that had Santos named inscribed on it.

The ballplayer became a hero when Mayall, at the age of 19, learned he had diabetes, and realized there was someone else showing you can live well with the disease.

If we miss him now, wait until we turn on the radio for that first pitch in Mesa in March, Mayall said. Ron Santo is the poster boy for joy. Ron Santo had an overdose of hope. Ron Santo lived on courage.

Santos old teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert served as pallbearers and helped wheel the casket down the aisle. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and WGN Radios Pat Hughes gave eulogies at a service carried live on television.

Ron was so in touch with the fan base that at times he can describe what was happening on the field without using actual words at all, Ricketts said. Every moan and groan, every shout for joy, we knew exactly, exactly what Ron was saying. Ron was truly the beating heart of Chicago Cubs fans.

An example to others

That pulse drew many Cubs employees to the funeral, from the stadium workers to general manager Jim Hendry to manager Mike Quade to team president Crane Kenney.

Current and former players were scattered throughout the pews: Ryne Sandberg; Gary Matthews Sr.; Ryan Dempster; Ted Lilly; Kerry Wood; Sean Marshall; Tom Gorzelanny; and Koyie Hill.

Broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly along with the radio and television crews that produce the games paid their respects. So did Sen. Richard Durbin and Jesse Jackson. But Santo wasnt defined by famous friends.

Hughes explained how Santo shrunk the distance from his audience. Santo, who lost both his legs, would meet amputees and give them the names and numbers for prosthetics professionals. He would read his fan mail before games and call complete strangers.

Ron Santo had time for everybody, Hughes said. Parents of diabetic kids would bring their children into the booth and Ronnie would just say, Hang in there, kid!

You got to watch your diet. You got to watch your blood sugars. Listen to your doctors. Youll be ok. Youll live a good life. I have so can you. And the kid would always walk away feeling a little bit better.

Hughes, a graceful, gifted storyteller with a smooth voice and an eye for details, breezed through an 18-minute eulogy that filled the room with laughter. At times, hanging with Santo must have felt like being in a Seinfeld episode.

It didnt matter if you heard it before Hughes was rolling with stories about his partner for 15 years. There was the time they stood up for the national anthem at Shea Stadium and Santos toupee caught on fire when it touched an overhead heater. So Hughes dumped water all over it.

There was the yogurt machine at a media dining room in Phoenix with specific instructions that Santo ignored: Do not turn on until game time. As the yogurt kept pouring out and would not stop, Hughes said, Ronnie did what any true seventh-grader would have done he ran away.

When the Cubs retired his No. 10 an honor he considered his own Hall of Fame induction the state of Illinois declared Sept. 28, 2003 to be Ron Santo Day. The proclamation came on a fancy piece of paper that resembled a college degree.

Santo had it up in the booth and proceeded to spill eggs and coffee all over it, before reaching to grab it as a napkin. There was a boyish quality to him even as he became a grandfather.

I would just like to ask you a favor, Hughes said. However you remember him, please do so with a big smile on your face. He would have liked that very much.

A voice that cannot be replaced

Santo could be as sweet as the candy bars the trainer used to keep on the bench whenever he needed a boost to fight the condition he kept secret. He succeeded in his post-playing career without the malice or cynicism often found in modern media.

The teams next radio analyst wont be able to get away with the same mistakes on air, and future Cubs managers wont have to console him after losses like Jim Riggleman and Lou Piniella once did.

Santo was a character with a style all his own. Wood remembers sitting down with him a few seasons ago for an interview before a game in Houston.

He started out: Im here with Chicago Cubs pitcher and he just got locked up, Wood recalled. It was early in the morning and he had a cocktail or two the night before. I (go): Ron, its been 10 years. So he starts over, gets the name right, and then he says, Here in Cincinnati...

But the connection to the players he rooted for so hard became so strong that after clinching a 2003 playoff series win in Atlanta, Wood made a point to call Santo from a hallway outside the clubhouse before he could begin popping champagne.

At once Santos legacy is both simple and complex. Some never saw the player who won five Gold Gloves and only heard him on the radio. Others argue that he should be in Cooperstown. Everyone can respect the more than 40 million he helped raise for diabetes research.

In the end, Santo approached everything with the determination Hughes described in this scene: To climb up the steps of the team's charter jet, Santo would grab the rail with his left hand, use the walking cane in his right and bounce up into the cabin.

John McDonough the Blackhawks president and former Cubs executive who helped make Santo a radio star read from the Bible a passage (2 Timothy 4:6-9) that captured a man seemingly without regrets. There will never be another Ron Santo.

The time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

Tony Andracki, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson react in real time to the breaking news that Kyle Schwarber was demoted to the minor leagues. Plus, the trio play around with expansion drafts and who the most indispensable players on the Cubs are.

[RELATED - Inside the numbers on Schwarber's season-long struggles]

Patrick Mooney also goes 1-on-1 with Cubs swingman southpaw Mike Montgomery about the lanky lefty’s role and how he got here.

Check out the entire Podcast here.

Inside the Numbers: Kyle Schwarber's season-long struggle

Inside the Numbers: Kyle Schwarber's season-long struggle

The struggle is real for Kyle Schwarber.

The Cubs demoted their slumping slugger Thursday morning, sending Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa at the same time they put Jason Heyward on the disabled list. 

Let's break down the numbers behind Schwarber's season-long struggles:

.171 

Schwarber's batting average, which was the lowest among qualified hitters in Major League Baseball by a whopping 17 points (Alex Gordon — .188).

In the new age of baseball, batting average has become almost completely useless in telling the story of a hitter's value, especially with home runs flying out of the ballpark.

But to put this average in perspective, Bill Bergen — widely considered the worst hitter in baseball history — hit .170 for his entire career, though he also posted a ridiculous .395 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) thanks to a .194 on-base percentage and .201 slugging.

38

In 2016, the lowest batting average for a qualified hitter was .209 by Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals.

That means Schwarber would've needed to raise his batting average 38 points just to meet Espinosa's mark from last season.

The last qualified player to hit below .200 in a season was Baltimore's Chris Davis in 2014 with a .196 average (but he also had a .704 OPS).

17

Like we said, baseball is a different game nowadays and batting average doesn't tell the whole story.

Despite his MLB-low average, Schwarber actually had only the 17th-lowest OPS in the game, ahead of guys like Albert Pujols, Tim Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Rougned Odor and Dansby Swanson. Fellow Cub Addison Russell is one point higher with a .674 OPS.

Schwarber helped his own case by posting a .295 on-base percentage (124 points above his batting average) and .378 slugging. 

13.8 

That's Schwarber's walk rate, drawing a free pass in 13.8 percent of his plate appearances. That's the exact same rate as Anthony Rizzo, who has a .393 on-base percentage. 

Only Kris Bryant is higher among Cubs regulars (15.7 percent) and Schwarber's walk percentage is tied for the 20th-best rate in the majors, ahead of Miguel Cabrera (13.2 percent) and Dexter Fowler (12.1 percent).

189

Schwarber was on pace to strike out 189 times over the course of a 162-game season. That would've come in as the fourth-highest whiff total of 2016, behind Davis (219), Chris Carter (206) and Mike Napoli (194).

But Schwarber has always been a big strikeout guy, whiffing 28.6 percent of the time in his career. That rate is at 28.7 percent in 2017. 

In 2015, Schwrber struck out 28.2 percent of the time and still posted an 842 OPS, so it's not like he can't be successful with this whiff rate.

-7/-7.7

The first number (-7 percent) is the increase in soft contact percentage from Schwarber's 2015 season (15.4 percent) to this year (22.4 percent). The second number (-7.7 percent) is the decrease in hard-hit contact from 39.7 percent in 2015 to 32 percent this year.

So Schwarber is simply not hitting the ball as hard overall this year, even though he's making contact at essentially the same rate.

.849

That's Schwarber's OPS in June, spanning 46 at-bats. He's only hitting .196 in the month, but he has a .327 OBP and .522 SLG thanks to four homers, three doubles and nine walks. 

The decent start to the month has helped raise Schwarber's season OPS from .627 to .673, but it was really the month of May that did America's Large Adult Son in: .120/.232/.337 in 83 May at-bats, good for a .569 OPS.

1.056 

In the first 12 games of June, Schwarber posted a 1.056 OPS thanks to a .250/.368/.688 slash line and four homers. It was that start that helped give Joe Maddon more confidence to move Schwarber around in the order, including hitting third Wednesday behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But since that hot start to June, Schwarber is only 1-for-14 with a double in five games (four starts), sinking his season OPS 20 points from .693 to .673.

.104

Schwarber's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for over a month, from May 10 to June 13. Schwarber racked up 98 plate appearances (84 at-bats) and had 30 strikeouts and six homers (which don't count toward BABIP), so he collected five hits in 48 balls put in play. 

Put another way: Schwarber had three singles in roughly five weeks of play (27 games). That's insanely bad luck, even factoring in the shift teams pull against the left-handed slugger, putting three defenders on the right side of the field.

During that stretch, Schwarber was an extreme three true outcome guy, with half his plate appearances (49) resulting in either a home run, a walk or a strikeout.

Schwarber's season BABIP is .193, a far cry from his .242 career mark. No other Cubs position player has a BABIP under .235 (Zobrist) on the year.

.221/.336/.456

Ending on a positive: This is Schwarber's batting line over the course of his career, including playoffs. That's a .792 OPS, even when factoring in this year's struggles. It also includes 33 HR and 81 RBI.

It also comes over 502 at-bats (590 plate appearances), essentially a full season's worth of action.