Saw this Big League Stew first thing this morning.

Cubs legend Ron Santo dies at 70

The year 2010 has been full of bad headlines for the Chicago Cubs, but this latest news is worse than everything else combined: Third base legend and radio broadcaster Ron Santo died on Wednesday night from complications due to bladder cancer. He was 70.

Because his health was never the best — he battled diabetes all his life and later had both of his legs amputated — we always knew this day would be coming. Still, it’s hard to wake up to learn that the franchise’s true heart and soul has left us for a better place.

Bleed Cubbie Blue has a post.

For those of us who grew up in the era when Cub icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Santo led the team achingly close to the World Series we all wanted — and still do — this is tremendously sad news. Ron Santo played baseball with passion and skill; he was the best third baseman of his era and in 1966 and 1967, arguably was among the top players in the game at any position.

He did all of this while suffering the effects of juvenile diabetes, which he kept secret from all but a few close friends and teammates until 1971, when it was revealed on Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field on August 28. Traded away when the team was broken up, his heart appeared no longer in the game. His talents faded after one sad year with the White Sox, he retired after 1974.

Sixteen years later, he became the Cubs radio color commentator, first with Thom Brennaman and then Pat Hughes. His style was unique — it wasn’t for everyone, but you could tell with every game that his passion for the Cubs as a broadcaster and fan was the same as it is for every one of us. He exulted in victory, was crushed in defeat. And during this time, he suffered health problems including the amputation of both his legs. As shown in his son Jeff’s fine documentary “This Old Cub”, he faced these things with unfailing good spirits.

I have Santo’s TRADED card in my collection.
Two of the things that I mention when writing about enjoyment of sports and broadcasting is joy and passion. Ron Santo definitely had both. That Bleed Cubbie Blue post mentions probably the most obvious (and definitely the most obvious Brewers related) example of passion about when talking about Ron Santo.

The year is 1998. The date is September 23. The Cubs are fighting the Giants for the Wild Card late in the season. They are at County Stadium. It is the bottom of the ninth. The Brewers, who had trailed 7-0 after the top of the seventh, have the bases loaded with two outs and they trail 7-5 with Rod Beck on the mound and Geoff Jenkins at the plate. Here is the dry recounting from retrosheet.

Jenkins reached on an error by Brown
[Loretta scored (unearned) (no RBI), Cirillo scored (unearned)
(no RBI), Burnitz scored (unearned) (no RBI), Jenkins to
second]; 3 R (0 ER), 2 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Cubs 7, Brewers 8.

I can’t find a good recording of the calls by Pat Hughes and Santo, but here is the transcript (and a little commentary) from a 2005 ESPN article.

HUGHES: “Two down, the Brewers have the bases loaded, and a 2-2 count on the hitter. Here’s the pitch. Swung on. Fly ball to left field. Brant Brown going back. Brant Brown … drops the ball!”

SANTO: “Oh, nooooooooo!”

HUGHES: “He dropped the ball!”

SANTO: “Nooooooooo!”

HUGHES: “Three runs will score, and the Brewers have beaten the Cubs.”

Hughes spoke flatly. Santo wailed. Listening to their broadcast, you could feel the sincere disappointment, a savage hatred for Brant Brown, and — perhaps more than anything — a profound desire to console Santo. The noise he emitted was the sound of pure grief.

No joy. But, passion, you bet.

Back in September of 1998, I was just starting with the Green Bay Gamblers hockey team.  I had not found a place in Green Bay yet, so, I was commuting 2-1/2 hours to my parents’ house.  Some of those late evening drives were spent flipping back and forth between broadcasts of the Brewers on WTMJ and the Cubs on WGN.  Those long drives didn’t seem so long with baseball on the radio.  And Ron Santo was a part of that.

Cubs fans have my sympathies today.

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