Saturday, December 4, 2010
The Cubs--and Chicago--Lose Their Biggest Fan
Chicago got its first significant winter snowfall today, one day after the death of former Chicago Cubs third baseman, Ron Santo.
Baseball is a summer sport, and Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, is a desolate place in the wintertime. With today's snow, there seemed to be a hushed sort of disbelief at the passing of Santo, the quintessential fan, a man of unshakable faith in his team that has gone without a World Series championship in over 100 years.
I don't write much about sports; I suppose of all major sports I can be considered mostly a fan of baseball. As a kid we went to many Cubs games at a time when Wrigley Field was smack in the middle of a questionable neighborhood, and safe parking was nearly impossible. I took for granted that the heroes I watched almost daily on TV, and live at the park during Sunday double-headers, would be around forever.
But when I heard of his death at age 70, I was stunned, silent, numb, like a part of my past was forever gone and never to be recaptured. Mark (a rabid St. Louis Cardinals fan and Cubs rival), and even my mother, not a great sports enthusiast, reacted tearfully to the news.
My sadness at his passing is as much for the loss of the man as it is for feeling an irretrievable loss of part of that happier, carefree aspect of childhood.
Santo had a colorful career and a solid record. That he was never inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame defies understanding, and diminishes the honor for all involved.
Ronnie was not a seasoned broadcaster, but Chicagoans loved him because he was so free with his emotions, his innocent raw passion for his beloved team added genuineness, sincerity, so lacking in the generic patter of many professional sports announcers. Many Cubs fans turned down the volume on their televisions during the games, turning up their radios to listen to the play-by-play of Ronnie and his on-air pal, Pat Hughes. Every excited yelp, or dismayed groans of "aw no....aw geez!' said more than any in-depth analysis ever could. We identified with that. He sounded out what we felt.
I always remarked that Ron Santo would die happily the minute the Cubs won the World Series. He made me believe that seeming impossibility was possible. I am sorry that he never lived to see that moment of victory.
During life's moves and changes, it hurts to lose an old photograph, a letter from a friend, an autographed baseball, or anything else that is a tangible reminder of how we once were. Losing Ron Santo, and the promise of another season filled with hope, felt this way to me. Even if you're not from Chicago, I know it is possible to understand this sense of loss...
At the end of the 1942 Gary Cooper biopic of Lou Gehrig, "Pride of the Yankees", as Gehrig finishes his famous farewell speech and walks off the field alone, soon to die, the yell of the umpire to "Play Ball!" gets me choked up every time. There is nothing more poignant than the idea that life goes on.