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, 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 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, Diamondbacks 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 who 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. 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). This is a great exclamation mark on his career."
Chip Caray, Braves broadcaster: The former Cubs announcer was with Santo on planes and busses, and at hotels and restaurants during Caray's career in Chicago.
"It's a bittersweet day. 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. 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."
Andy Masur, Padres broadcaster: Masur was part of the Cubs broadcasts in the WGN booth from 1999 through 2006, assisting Santo on the road while learning his craft.
"A lot of fans got to know him as baseball player. I got to know what a generous human being he was. Being afflicted with diabetes, watching him talk to young kids with the same disease, coaching them, telling them to live as humans and live a long life. He's calling people up who lost limbs before games, saying 'No, this is really Ron Santo ...' It never failed. He would be on the phone 15-20 minutes before every game encouraging someone. He and my granddad, who also lost a leg from diabetes, were the two toughest SOBs I've ever been around. He didn't want anyone's help, and never once did he ask 'Why me?' Hall of Fame player? Absolutely. Long overdue. Hall of fame guy, too, top to bottom. I guess my favorite story was when we were in St. Louis and he called to bring him a baseball hat. It was one of only two times I saw him without a hairpiece. He said I'm not wearing this hat, so we had to scour the room for his toupee. I'm looking in the shower, under beds, under the drapes, and finally I gravitated toward a stack of newspapers, and what looked like a dead squirrel attached to a FedEx box. I brought him the whole box. I was afraid it was going to bite me. He was hysterical, laughing like he does. Man, he spent more time laughing at himself."
Lou Piniella, former Cubs manager: Piniella was a Santo road companion and shared a radio show with him during his stint in Chicago from 2007-2010.
"Ronnie loved the Cubs as much or more than anything. A classy person, and a good friend. He loved the Cubs, loved talking baseball. He helped make my four years very enjoyable. And on road trips, when the team was not doing so well, he'd sit with me on airplanes and we'd talk about it. No question I'd have to console him a lot. He'd really be down and I'd have to tell him that we were going to get better. I do feel bad that Ronnie couldn't be there to enjoy. He was never bitter about it though, just matter of factly saying he hoped he'd get in. But I never heard him complain or lament the fact he hadn't been in. He also wanted to obviously be there with his two good friends, Ernie (Banks) and Billy (Williams). Looking at all the great years, he belonged in Cooperstown quite a while back. It was fun for me to be in Chicago and manage the Cubs, to have guys like Ronnie to work with. It's part of history. You can't relive it, or buy those moments."
Jim Hendry, Yankees assistant to general manager: The former Cubs general manager spent his entire Cubs career traveling to ballparks with Santo.
"It was no secret how much he loved the Cubs, but he also had such an appreciation for the players and how they handled their jobs. He knew how difficult it is to play this game. I've never met a tougher human being. I spent 11 years sitting across the aisle from him on airplanes and I never heard him complain about his health. Not one word. You knew how hard it was for him to get around, and it was sad watching him go through his difficulties. But I'm so happy for him. It's easy to be sad that he's not there to enjoy it, because no one would have loved it more."
Dusty Baker, Reds manager: The former Cubs manager spent 2003-06 alongside Santo, who hosted the pregame manager's show on WGN-AM.
"He's about as tough a guy as I've ever met. But he's also a kind-hearted, sensitive man at the same time even though he didn't appear as such. He never complained about anything. I knew he had to be in pain. I know there were times he'd fall down and he wouldn't let you help him up. We got to the point where I'd send him a Christmas smoked turkey. He'd send me one back. Everybody loved him outside of a few people who were jealous of the notoriety and the love that he got from everybody, which is to be expected. I really enjoyed my time (with him). I only wished he had gotten into the Hall of Fame while he was still alive because when I drive down a street now and see freeway overcrossings or bridges, John Jackson Memorial bridge, everything's 'memorial.' I wish we would be more aware of the living than necessarily rewarding the dead."
Ken Lehman, Wrigley Field crowd control: One of Lehman's assignments at Wrigley from 2004-2010 was delivering Santo to the press box every home game by driving him up the ramps on a golf cart.
"My first day driving Ronnie in '04 was earth-shattering. I felt like the whole golf cart was shaking. But he let me feel his prosthetic leg, made me feel comfortable from the start. We'd share stories on the way up to the box, mostly I'd listen to his opinions on the Cubs. He'd talk about the team, how it was going. I remember he was so angry about the lack of leadership in the clubhouse on that ('04) team. And when we'd get to the top and he got out he'd stop and we'd really get into conversations. When my mom was sick with cancer he really comforted me. He was just that way. Being asked by his family to be a pallbearer at his funeral ... I was so touched. I know his induction to the Hall is a day late and a dollar short, but I also know he's up there clicking his heels."
Matt Boltz, WGN radio engineer: Producing the Cubs broadcasts, Boltz spent a time or two cleaning up after Santo's spills of beverages, soup and you name it, while helping him out on the road.
"Ronnie was almost like the Cubs, all about hope. Every year he thought they would be in it. And every time he had a chance for the Hall, he thought he had a legitimate shot. That was part of his optimistic outlook on things, how he lived his life in and out of the booth. He brought me in and treated me like a son, which I'll never forget. So many great moments -- a lot of late nights, a lot of brain cells left on the floor. Of course, you can't forget the time in Shea Stadium when I thought the equipment was burning in the booth -- Andy Masur and I are looking around to find out where it was coming from, and the next thing you know, it's coming out of Ronnie's hair. His toupee was on fire. Man, it was unbelievable. And once his wife, Vicki, tried to get him to wear trendier clothes, to get him to be hipper. He came in with a long-sleeved, striped shirt with the cuffs flipped out, new expensive jeans and a hairdo like Rod Stewart. He says, 'Big boy, be honest, whattya think?' I tried not to laugh. 'Ronnie, only you could pull that look off.' He goes: 'You're full of it,' and starts laughing. This honor was such a big deal to Ron. He downplayed it pretty well, but this is something he really wanted. It kills me that he's not here to enjoy it."
Pat Hughes, Cubs broadcaster: Longtime WGN-AM partner and friend who spent countless hours with Santo in and out of the booth.
"He loved his family and he loved the Cubs. Just an amazing human being. I've never known anybody remotely like him. He was complicated in some ways, and very, very simple in others. Great ballplayer, popular broadcaster, champion of diabetes fundraising and research, and the amazing way he handled adversity at the end of his life ... all of those things combined to make him an outrageous personality. The fun, the laughter, the forgetfulness, the teasing of each other, that's what really separates him from anybody else. You couldn't spend any time around him and not laugh at him, and have him laugh right back at you. Ron Santo would be out of control with joy and pride and unmitigated happiness on this day. This was a dream come true for him. I thought the best day of his life was when he had No. 10 retired at Wrigley Field in September of 2003, but this would have been a greater day. He prided himself on speaking extemporaneously without any notes, so it would have been fun to hear his speech. It's a shame he can't be here, but I can picture his face on this day -- a combination of a senior citizen and a 10-year-old kid."
Santo will miss out on his special day, but Ronnie stories live on. Paul Sullivan talks to 12 of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer's biggest fans.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun