It’s been a tough couple weeks in the sports world. Legendary NHL Coach Pat Burns and esteemed sportswriter Jim Kelley both passed away this November due to Cancer. Although it’s easy to get lost within a game either as a player, sports professional, or simply a fan, incidents such as this really remind us that there’s more to life than sports.
So this week, instead of running through the week’s posts, I wanted to do things a little differently. Fellow writer Bear Heiser requested if we could repost his piece on the late Ron Santo, a Chicago Cubs legend who also passed away this week due to a fight with cancer. Santo never quite got the respect he deserved from the Baseball Hall of Fame so the least I could do is to post Bear’s piece. Ron Santo was Bear’s favorite player. This one’s for you, Ron:
(This is a guest post by Bear Heiser)
For years, Ron Santo sat by his phone and waited. He waited for the Hall to call. But it never did.
Ron Santo deserves better. No man has contributed more to the game of baseball and gotten less in return. Santo entered the league in 1960 with the Cubs. He was a nine time all-star, won five consecutive gold gloves, and hit 342 home runs to go along with his 1,331 RBIs. He and Hall of Fame third-baseman Mike Schmidt are the only two players at their position to hit over 300 homers and have at least five gold gloves. It’s truly a shame that those numbers don’t mean as much now that we’ve lived through the egotistical home run laden steroid era.
If you aren’t impressed by his numbers, does it matter that he played his entire MLB career with juvenile diabetes? Santo played through the pain of diabetes during a time-period where knowledge of the disease was minimal. What’s most telling is the fact that he kept his suffering a secret from all but a few close friends and teammates until 1971. He was the first high-profile professional athlete to reveal that he played at the major league level with said disease.
Current players have it easy in comparison. Modern day medicine/technology has made playing with diabetes tolerable. Today’s players wear blood-sugar belts, take blood tests during games and who knows what else to test their sugar levels. Santo didn’t wear a belt that told him his blood sugar was low, his body told him. He was notorious for eating as many as three candy bars per day. Don’t get me wrong, I love candy as much as the next guy, but there’s no way I could eat 21 candy bars a week. That’s pure insanity, but Santo did it, year in and year out. In retrospect, his stats and accomplishments are even more impressive when you factor in the disease that kills an estimated 180,000 per year.
Ron was the first player in baseball to wear a helmet with protective ear flaps. I bet you didn’t know that! It was 1966, Santo was shooting to break Hall of Famer Hack Wilson’s record for the longest hitting steak in Cubs history (27) when he was hit in the face by a pitch that effectively broke his cheekbone, sidelining him for nearly two weeks. Santo, and his new helmet, ended up breaking Wilson’s record in his first game back from the broken face. Not a bad trade-off at that point.
Santo played his last game eight years before I was even born. His contribution to the game for me is more about what he did with the Cubs organization starting in 1990, when he joined Pat Hughes in the radio booth. He wasn’t your everyday radio color guy either. Santo may have been the BIGGEST homer in baseball. He would literally bleed Cubbie blue during broadcasts by wearing his heart where everyone could see it. What really made Ron was his lack of a filter. At times he wouldn’t say anything; at others all you may hear is a moan or a groan, or most famously, “he dropped the ball.”
Thanks to YouTube, I’ve included some of my favorite Ron Santo moments. I hope you’ll take a some time to appreciate who and what we as baseball fans have lost.
Can you think of a man who did more in his career with less? Can you think of a man in baseball who lost both legs to diabetes? I didn’t think so.
Santo is no doubt in the top five best third baseman in baseball history, and he got there while playing through a debilitating disease. No man wanted the Hall more than Santo did. The pain and agony of being passed over year after year took it’s toll. He mentioned many times that he didn’t want to go into the Hall after he passed, and I hope the Hall voters respect his wish.
I’m sorry Ron. I’m sorry we did you like this. I’m sorry we didn’t fully acknowledge the unbearable circumstances you played under. I’m sorry you slipped through the cracks. I’m sorry you gave your heart and soul to the game of baseball to have it give you nothing in return. You deserved better.
And to the Hall of Fame I say: you fickle bitch.
(This article is a repost originally posted here)
Bear Heiser is a St. Louis Rams Featured Columnist at BleacherReport.com. His Rams coverage doesn’t stop here as he has also written about the Rams on NFL.com You can find him on Twitter @ramsreport and @bearconsults. His personal blog is www.bearconsults.com
Image by rbman