ST. LOUIS — Ron Santo will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday for his accomplishments on the field.
But the Ron Santo we knew and loved in Chicago was more than a legendary third baseman. He also was a broadcaster, humanitarian, Cubs fan and, to many, a dear friend.
Given a chance to discuss the man they loved on this special day, several people who knew him mentioned the obvious disappointment of not having Santo on hand to enjoy the honor, But they also relished the moments they spent laughing with No. 10, and the lasting effect he had on so many of their lives.
It would be impossible to include all of Santo's friends and admirers, but here are the thoughts of a dozen who shared a special bond with the Cubs legend.
Mark Grace, Arizona broadcaster
The former first baseman starred on the Cubs in the '90s when Santo began his broadcasting career.
"It's about time. He's going in posthumously, and shame on Cooperstown for waiting until the guy passes away until it happens. Shame on the writers. Shame on the veterans committee. The guy has been deserving for so long and it meant so much to him. Good for his family. I love his family, and (his wife) Vicki is a sweetheart, and good for her. But it's so disappointing that it has happened this way. I'm stoked he's going in, but so bummed out he's not going to be there for it. When you're around baseball and play for the Cubs and you're fortunate to travel all over this country and meet Cubs fans, everywhere you go, you'll find someone, from Maine to Montana to Florida claiming they are the world's biggest Cubs fan. I'll tell all those millions of people who've said that: 'Sorry, but no you're not. Ron Santo was without a doubt the biggest Cubs fan in the world.'"
Jimmy Bank, Cubs traveling secretary
Bank was Santo's constant companion on the road, and once went back to a hotel room to retrieve a prosthetic leg Santo had left behind.
"It was fun, every day with him, on the road. People heard Ronnie on the air, but he was like that off the air too. Ronnie and I would tease each other constantly. When he passed, I had several bus drivers called me and said how much fun they had listening to us jaw back and forth. To me, he was just a fun guy, legendary status aside. And if you were his friend, he would do the world for you. His disdain for New York was pretty well known, and one day I asked him 'Ronnie, if you had one choice, would you prefer that the city of New York is eliminated from the face of the earth and the Mets lose every game for the rest of eternity, or you get in the Hall of Fame? He just roared. He goes: 'That's good. Hall of Fame.' Personally, I miss him as a friend. But we still tell Ron Santo stories every day, which is what makes a legend a legend."
John McDonough, Blackhawks president
McDonough was marketing and broadcasting boss of the Cubs during most of Santo's career and they became lifelong friends.
Ron Santo's induction into Cooperstown isn't just good for the Cubs organization, it's really good for baseball. His statistics were deserving, of course, but this is about a guy who had such a unique style as a broadcaster his career momentum kept going. He was perfectly imperfect. He would moan on the air at times, 'This just can't go on. It just can't!' The Brant Brown moment, the 'Oh, no …' call (on a dropped fly during the 1998 race), it sounded like Ronnie had just happened upon a crime scene. And we teased him constantly I guess my favorite was when we made up a press release and said (Steve Stone) was being added to the radio booth. He stormed out and quit until we caught him and told him it was a joke. I remember calling him once and he put the phone down to answer the door, then came back and picked up the TV remote control by mistake. I could hear him in the background yelling 'Hello, hello …' It's unfortunate he's not here to see this, but I think he's going to have a great seat for it. To me it's a validation to not just his playing career, but all he brought to that franchise. In some ways he was like Harry (Caray). To me, this is a great exclamation mark on his career."
Chip Caray, Braves broadcaster
The former Cubs announcer was with Santo on planes, busses, hotels and restaurants during Caray's career in Chicago.
"It's a bittersweet day. To me, maybe the most important part is as a human being, a humanitarian representing our sport, the tens of millions of dollars that he raised fighting a disease that ultimately helped take his life, but never, ever lost that cheerful enthusiasm, that willingness to try to find a cure for it. To me, it embodied all that a Hall of Fame person can be. And as a broadcaster, he was unique. In this day and age, there aren't any characters like Ronnie. Everybody wants everybody to sound like everyone else. I think Ronnie was kind of a natural and logical follower of my grandfather (Harry Caray), and Jack Brickhouse was a character in his own way in Chicago. Ronnie, like those guys, was a man of the people, and wore his Cubs on his sleeve. We teased him about it all the time — 'Why do you get so worked up?' Easy. 'Because I'm a Cub. Because I care.'"
Brant Brown, Triple-A Round Rock hitting coach
The former Cubs outfielder was the cause of Santo's famous 'Oh no' call on WGN-AM 720, but later learned Santo was sorry to put so much attention on the error, which ultimately didn't cost the Cubs a playoff berth.
"He was just a wonderful guy, and one of the first guys to pat me on the back after that game. I heard afterward that he said it, but it didn't bother me. I don't take anything personal from it. I failed, and it didn't cost us anything. People still think it did cost us, for some reason. It's crazy. Everyone makes a big deal of it, but Ronnie was just doing his job. He bled blue and red at the same time. I loved the man and he's great for Cubs Nation and this is a great day for all Cubs fans."