Friday, December 9, 2011

A Posthumous Honor for a Chicago Classic

Almost a year to the day after his passing ("The Cubs...Lose Their Biggest Fan", December 4 2010), former Chicago Cubs Third Baseman Ron Santo was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's a bittersweet victory.  Santo had been passed over for the honor since he was originally placed on the ballot in 1980.  For over thirty years, Ronnie swallowed his disappointment and put a gracious good face on the annual postponement of his dream.

Consider Santo's record as a Cub in the 1960's and early '70's: his high profile and loyalty to his team and to his city; his popularity with fans and players alike; his proficiency as a third baseman (a position rarely honored by the Hall of Fame) with 90 RBI's in eight consecutive seasons (a record); a 9-time National League All-Star player; and his ebullience and regular-guy good humor in the broadcast booth.  The fact that he was never honored with induction into the Hall until now seems like an almost deliberate, and cruel, snub.  I don't understand it, and neither do most Cub fans nor Chicago Sports Writers.

Santo's Cub Uniform #10 was retired in 2003, and his flag flies over his beloved Wrigley Field along with those of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, Santo's teammates and the only other Cubs to have their numbers retired. After an emotional ceremony before a packed stadium, Santo declared: “I know getting inducted into the Hall of Fame had to be something, but that flag is going to be hanging there after everybody is gone.”

Having the recognition of his team, his fans, and his city, meant more to Santo than any other honor.  Still, he deserved better from the Hall of Fame voters.

"We dared to dream this because it was so important to Ron and such a long time in coming,” his widow, Vicki, said, upon hearing the news of Santo's posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame. “But we’re all thrilled. When I got the call from the Hall and then Billy [Williams] got on the phone and said, ‘Vick, we finally got it done,’ it made me cry.”  Vicky will make the induction speech in Cooperstown on July 22.

Somewhere, I hope Ronnie heard the news, and reacted with his characteristic unbridled joy:

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