MIKE NIETO: The day has finally come for Santo, Cubs fans

2012-07-20T18:00:00Z 2013-12-28T19:42:45Z MIKE NIETO: The day has finally come for Santo, Cubs fansBy Mike Nieto Times Column nwitimes.com
July 20, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

Whether you are a Cubs fan or not, if you grew up following Chicago sports, you have to be happy that Ron Santo will be officially enshrined Sunday in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

It is too bad Ron is being inducted posthumously because he should have been elected years ago.

The younger generation knew him as a color man on the Cubs broadcasts on WGN, first with Thom Brennaman and Harry Caray, then with Pat Hughes.

If you are of the older generation and grew up in the 1960s and 70s, you remember a great third baseman for the Cubs and he also spent one year on the South Side (1974).

He it 342 career homers and drove in 1,331 runs. He was nine-time All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove Award winner. From 1963-70, he drove in at least 93 runs for eight consecutive seasons.

As a kid, I remember him coming to my grammar school for a father and son baseball dinner. I think it was the winter of 1967-68 when Santo made the trip to Lessard Hall at St. Mary of the Lake in Gary's Miller neighborhood.

I don't remember a lot, but I think it was a baseball menu with hot dogs, Peerless potato chips and pop. I still have the autographed baseball that Santo signed.

And true to Ron Santo, he signed for everyone as he sat on the stage and answered questions from the young fans and their dads. This was a time when the ballplayers were a little closer to fans and a little kid could shake hands and get an autograph from a great player.

The Cubs had just come off a successful 1967 season and this was the beginning of a semi-successful run, which included the disappointing 1969 season.

Though I am a White Sox fan and root for the Brewers from my time spent in Milwaukee, Santo is one of my favorite players of all time. With the Cubs playing all home day games, you could come home from school and catch the last few innings on "WGN-TV, Channel 9, Continental Broadcasting," with Jack Brickhouse usually bringing us the "unhappy totals."

But there was the "Hey! Hey!" home-run call and 'That a boy, Ronnie, all the way out on Waveland Avenue. Weeeeee!'"

You could usually count on Santo making a great defensive play to rob Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente or Maury Wills of a potential extra-base hit.

Or listening to WGN radio and hearing Vince Lloyd yell "Holy Mackerel, Santo hit one into the tarp in center field."

What Santo contributed was more than home runs or great plays. He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was a teen. He showed that by taking care of yourself, you could lead a good life and have a great career like he did.

There were no glucometers back in the 1960s and Santo said when he felt light-headed due to low blood sugar, he would take a swig of pop or eat a candy bar.

He used his name to raise millions of dollars for juvenile diabetes research.

To those kids who have benefited from juvenile diabetes research, Ron Santo was a hero for what he did off the field as well.

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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