I never minded missing a Cubs game. It’s not because they typically lost, nor was it because baseball is boring, but I knew that I could always catch it on the radio. With Pat Hughes and Ron Santo, nothing was boring during a Cubs game, win or lose. With every grounder, run scored or swing and a miss, Santo’s emotions ran high and the man always wore his heart on his sleeve.
Just listening to him, you always felt his love for baseball. After 14 years with the Cubs between 1960 and 1973 out of a 15 year career, his heart could only settle in one place. I remember the first time I was introduced to Ron Santo. My mom said to me, finding the only connection she could at the moment, “He was like my Scottie Pippen.” One day before a Cubs game, we were sitting in the stands in the upper decks watching as ground crews were preparing the field and Cubs players were stretching. A man, with his jacket on his arm stood near the rail watching. My mom, sitting next to me, freaked out. “That’s Ron Santo!” she said. “Come with me to go get his autograph.” She was as giddy as a school girl. I didn’t want to go because at the time, I didn’t care to know him. She took my sister with her instead. I watched as my mom, red in the face, laughed and introduced my sister to him. She was on a high for the rest of the game.
I didn’t know he had diabetes until after those foundational moments of learning about his superb baseball career and finding out that he hated the Mets after 1969 just as much as my mother did. I was watching a documentary about Santo and his life-long challenges of having diabetes. I found out that he was diagnosed at 18 a time where glucometers weren’t available in surplus like they are today and figuring out whether he should eat or not was solely based on how he felt. While playing baseball, his teammates didn’t know he had diabetes until three years after he started playing. When it came to the public, no one knew until years after his career.
I will never forget one story that he told. He was on deck and started to feel his blood sugar go down. Apparently it was dropping pretty quickly because he was seeing double. When he got up to bat, he said he saw three pitchers, stacked one on top of the other about to throw the ball. He didn’t know which one was real, so he decided to just aim for the middle one coming at him. When the pitch was released, Santo sailed it into the bleachers for a homerun. After running around the bases, he sat in the dugout and ate a candy bar.
After his baseball career, Santo raised millions of dollars for diabetes research. His incentive to fight the disease was to be a big league ball player, which he eventually did. When he was diagnosed, he had no idea what diabetes was. In a Chicago Sun-Times interview, he said that he went to look it up at the library and it said that life expectancy was only 25 years, with the chance of multiple complications including kidney failure, hardening of the arteries and blindness. Although Santo did endure heart attacks, eye surgery and eventually leg amputations in 2001 and 2002, the fact that he got to play baseball, becoming one of the most memorable players is a feat in itself.
After I saw that documentary and did a bit of research, Ron Santo became somewhat of my diabetic hero. I wanted to get involved and take an active part in helping raise money, or something along those lines. Firstly, though, I wanted to start taking better care of myself because of everything he had said. Santo didn’t start taking insulin until two years after he was diagnosed. He didn’t have the every day medication or ability to monitor his blood sugar (a vital role in controlling diabetes). Regardless of what he actually died from, his diabetic complications and his survival through all of them is something to admire. He credits baseball for his longer life, saying that without being a Cubs announcer he may not have lived as long as he did. Because I do have all of these resources, I have to take advantage of them. That, and my education.
In any case, I admired the man Ron Santo was and the fact that he built bridges with fans, wore his heart for the Cubs on his sleeve and spoke out for a diabetic cure has made him one of Chicago’s most noted and loved public figures. If they induct him into the Hall of Fame, it won’t be worth as much as he made being a Cubbie. He really held the Cubs community together. Ron, you will be sorely missed.
Three cheers for Ron Santo!