This morning I heard the sad news of Ron Santo’s passing. Honestly, it hit me pretty hard, because even though I know that he has been in poor health for a long time, he was still expecting to analyze Cubs baseball on the radio again this season. I am grieving as a fan for him more than I grieved for Harry Carrey, which surprises me. I think it was because Harry had retired before he passed away. So I had time to process his loss as a broadcaster before I had to grieve his loss as a person. With Ronnie I have to grieve both his loss as a broadcaster and his loss as a person at the same time.
I think the reason that I and so many other Cubs fans related so strongly to Ron was because he expressed exactly what we were feeling on the air. When the Cubs won there was no one more ecstatic than Ron Santo. When the Cubs lost there was no one more despondent. During the ups and downs of every game, Ron bellowed in agony or cheered relentlessly with the rest of us. He was that fun, strange baseball uncle who most of the time made little sense but made up for it with mirth, personality, and passion. He taught us about the game, and showed us that it was ok to let our guard down and authentically live and enjoy the emotions of the game, good and bad.
Ron was never there to be an intellectual like Steve Stone, he was there to be the biggest Cubs fan of us all and to lead the fans in cheerleading our favorite team. Should he occasionally teach us something, that was a plus, but he was there to make what many consider to be a slow and monotonous game an accessible if not engaging experience.
We feel like we know Ron because his love and our love was so real that even though most of have never met him in person we feel that we have an intimate connection to the man that supersedes the paltry things like a two-way relationship and face to face contact.
I grew up listening to Ron Santo. I loved how he related the game. In 1998 when Brant Brown dropped a fly ball my best friend and I were watching the game on TV with the television broadcast’s sound turned off and the radio broadcast on. The cry of horror that escaped from Ron’s lips matched our own and that memory alone cements Ron’s legacy in my mind.
As a person he always seemed pleasant but also intensely passionate. Other players and media types have called him a jerk and ignorant and maybe he was these things as well. But one of the great professional tragedies of Ron’s life is that because of his personality he was denied an honor that should be his, induction into the baseball Hall of Fame. It makes me sick that he did not live to experience this honor, but I do believe that with his death the veteran’s committee will finally relent, having exacted their revenge for his alleged misdeeds, and induct him.
The other great professional tragedy is that, like so many other Cubs fans, he did not live to see a Cubs World Series Championship. It was my hope that I would get to hear his joy of finally experiencing a championship. It makes me sad to think that if I am ever lucky enough to see the Cubs win it all, I will not be able share that with Ron.
My condolences go out to all Cubs fans, but more to Ron’s friends and family. We will all miss him. Be sad for your loss today, but tomorrow be hopeful just like Ron always was. Be happy, donate to the fight against Juvenile Diabetes, and cheer for the Cubs just a little bit harder, because without Ron we all need to step up to fill the silence he left behind.