Monday, December 5, 2011
Remembering a friend, and Hall of Famer
By Bruce Levine
People who met Ron Santo for the first time felt like they were longtime friends.
The Hall of Fame is a better place today with Ron Santo in it.
For reporters like myself who became friends with Santo over the years before he died last December, Monday was certainly a great day as the legendary Chicago Cubs third baseman was voted into the Hall of Fame.
I always laughed at the arguments against Santo being in the Hall of Fame, and about his credentials.
Growing up in the years Santo was a star, no one ever questioned that he was among the elite players in the game. And that was during baseball's golden era of the 1960s.
Santo was a great defensive player and power hitter long before the steroids era. The captain of those outstanding Cubs teams in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he played hard on the field and lived life to its fullest off the field.
The hard work he did for Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund and his fundraising showed the real person Santo was, and how deep his commitment was to finding a cure for the disease he battled for most of his life.
Santo's life was all about people and his love and respect for them. I can't tell you how many times people stopped him in my presence and walked away feeling like they had known him for years.
Ron had a special gift, and that was his big heart.
On the other side, he had no filter, which meant if he disagreed with you he'd argue it until he either changed your mind or you walked away.
One time we were discussing the greatest pitcher he had ever faced, Santo said hands down it was Sandy Koufax. I argued that as great as Koufax was, Warren Spahn did it for 25 years and won 363 games. Koufax pitched 10 and won 165.
"You never played, what would you know about it?" Santo said to me. "But let me tell you, nobody could hit Koufax. Not Mays, Aaron or Ernie, when Koufax was on, and he was on most of the time. By far he was the best."
I said, "Ok, then how did you do against Spahn."
"Not too (blanking) good," he said, as we started laughing.
That was the beauty of Ron Santo, funny, honest, always in your face.
I asked him once why he never complained about his health issues. He said, "I live in the here and now, and there are a lot of people who have things a lot worse than I do. Why should I complain?"
Santo's life changed forever in the early 1960s when his mother and stepfather were killed in an automobile accident on their way from Seattle to Mesa, Ariz. to watch Santo in spring training.
"You never get over something like that," he told me in 2010. "Maybe that's why I'm always happy to meet people and to have a nice experience with them. You just can't take this life for granted, or the people in it."
Santo used to listen to me on the radio at times, and when he thought I was full of nonsense, he'd grab me aside and say, "Hey, you really do it know it all don't you? In fact, you may know more than anybody about baseball."
I always got the message when he'd say something like that to me. I became a little more humble every time I was around him.
Wherever you're at Ronnie, this Bud's for you. And tell some of those Hall of Famers up there with you who didn't vorte for you to get in, where to go.