Ron Santo's legacy will live on

Ron Santo's legacy will live on
January 15, 2012, 1:21 am
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Billy Williams called Dec. 5, 2011 a great moment. He may as well have been speaking for the entire Cubs fan base.

That was the day Ron Santo was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it came roughly a year after the Cubs icon died.

"I was elated," Vicki Santo, Ron's wife, said Saturday. "The whole family was elated. Everybody says it's too bad he wasn't here and yes, it is. But this is the way it was meant to be.

"He worked his whole life towards his accomplishments so that he could he belong in Cooperstown...This is going to carry his legacy further."

Pat Hughes, the MC of the "Ron Santo: Beyond the Game" session at the 2012 Cubs Convention, kicked things off by asking how each member of the panel -- comprised of Vicki and Ron's son, Ron Jr., as well as former teammates Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley -- felt when they heard the news of Ron's induction into the Hall of Fame.

"This is something that he waited for so long," Ron, Jr., said. "Certainly, we would love to have had him here. Right when Vicki called me to tell me, I pictured his face and how he would react.

"I'm just relieved that it finally happened."

Hughes recounted how Ron's face would always light up like a little boy's when he was happy. That was the image that flashed through the head of Santo's former broadcast partner for almost 30 years.

"Ronnie would have been happier than anybody ever voted in," Hughes said. "This refocuses everybody on his playing career. Of what he was as a ballplayer. I think that's a very cool thing."

Hundley, Santo's teammate for eight seasons in Chicago, said he would head over to the Santo residence every year around the Hall of Fame voting up until five years ago.

"I think this worked out in the best way. He would have had a heart attack, Hundley joked.

"Every time I talked to him on the phone, I told him I loved him. I do love him. I'm proud of his career and finally getting elected into the Hall of Fame. It's well deserved."

Williams, who played over 2,000 games alongside the star third baseman, was on the Golden Era committee that voted Santo in with 15 of a possible 16 votes.

"Ron Santo: Hall of Famer. That sounds good, don't it?" he said. "I always told him 'this is the year.' And it finally came."

The panel discussed Santo's contributions on the field and in the broadcast booth, but made special mention of his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

He played his entire career with Type I diabetes, back when there was little known about the condition. The disease eventually took both legs, but it never took his spirit.

"You wonder how he did it," Williams said. "But he was so gung-ho to play baseball. He loved the game."

Santo put up great numbers while playing with the debilitating disease during baseball's true "Golden Era" of talent. But his personality was truly worthy of the Hall of Fame.

There were laughs all around as fans joined Santo's family and friends in recounting stories from his life.

Beckert was Santos roommate for a number of years and told a story about how the Cubs were on the road in Philadelphia in the late 60s when Santo hit a three-run homer.

"As he reaches home plate, the stands erupt," Beckert recalled. "All the fans stood up and applauded. And Santo said to me 'Rooms, I have never had this happen in my entire career where I'm on the visiting team and being cheered like that.' And I said 'Rooms, forget about it. Look at the scoreboard: Man just walked on the moon."

Vicki compared marriage with Ron to living out episodes of "Seinfeld and shared her favorite story of the Cubs legend. The two had recently gotten an extensive cable makeover at their Arizona home.

"So the guy leaves and not too long after, I hear Ronnie making a commotion because the remote wouldn't work," Vicki said. "I went in there and he's pointing the phone at the TV, hammering away on the buttons."

There were emotional discussions about Santo's desire to spend time with fans, especially fellow amputees. He constantly took time out of his day to give new amputees advice and insight on how to deal post-operative.

"It was really impressive," Hughes said. "He wouldn't just take two or three minutes. It was always 15 or 20 minutes. I saw that all the time."

Stories of Ron Santo will be told at the corner of Clark and Addison for generations to come. The Hall of Fame induction is just icing on the cake. An indication of all he meant to the game.

"Ronnie wasn't just a baseball player," Williams said. "He was a friend. I know right now, he's enjoying it. I don't think he's clicking his heels, though."