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MLB Legends: Ron Santo

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Seattle, Washington is more of a place where many famous people outside of the baseball call home. Some of them include Paul Allen, Mario Batali, Jamal Crawford, Bill Gates, Adam West, Duff McKagan, and others from the business, entertainment, and basketball world. There are, however, three baseball players who called Seattle home. They include Aaron Sele, Fred Hutchinson, and Hall of Famer, Ron Santo. It just so happens that Ron Santo will be the latest person to be talked about in the MLB Legends series. Over the last few weeks, I have looked at several baseball legends from Ernie Banks to Sandy Koufax to Mickey Mantle. Ron Santo was the third baseman that played for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox from 1960-1974. Many years later, he would make end up becoming the color commentator for the Chicago Cubs on WGN. Unfortunately, he would pass away in 2010, and he was not around to see himself get into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

He was born on February 25, 1940 in Seattle, Washington. At the young age of nineteen years old, he would end up being signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs in 1959. He would end up making his major league debut on June 26, 1960 as the Chicago Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his debut, Ron Santo would end up going two for four and helped the Cubs defeat the Pirates by the score of 7-6. In the 1961 season, he would end up already writing his name in the Cubs record books.

During the 1961 season, he turned forty-one double plays at third base and would break the mark of thirty-three that was set by former Chicago Cub Bernie Friberg in 1923. It is very impressive that Ron Santo was able to get his name etched into the Cubs record books at a very quick rate. It should be noted though that this would not be the last record that Ron Santo would break in his career. What is interesting to note with Ron Santo, the next record he broke came the following season, the 1962 season.

It was in the 1962 season that Ron Santo would break another record and one that is not one to be taken lightly. He would lead the National League in assists with 332, thus setting the team record for assists at third base. The previous record was 323 that was established by former Chicago Cub Randy Jackson in 1951. It should also be mentioned that he would continue to lead the National League in assists every year until 1968. He would go on to break another record that was set by Ned Williamson who had a record of leading the National League a total of six times.

Brooks Robinson would end up taking that title for the American League and Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt would tie Ron Santo’s mark. There would be several other records that Ron Santo would end up breaking during his tenure with the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, Ron Santo did lose a teammate during his time with the Cubs.

Before the start of the 1964 season, Santo’s teammate Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash. Ron Santo was interviewed for a documentary on Ken Hubbs that was called A Glimpse of Greatness- The Story of Ken Hubbs. During his interview, he would give the highest respects to his teammate. The 1969 season would end up going down as how you should not keep the gas pedal going.

The Chicago Cubs were in first place in the National League East for 180 days. In their final 25 games of the season, they would end up going 8-17 and end up giving the division up to the New York Mets who would go 37-11 in their final 48 games. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs are in the National League Central division, but that was not the case before 1994. Before the start of the NL Central division, the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals were in the National League East. But in regards to Ron Santo and the Cubs, the 1969 season was a season that they try to forget.

In 1973, he would become the first player to invoke the ten-and-five rule that was a part of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed as a result of the 1972 MLB strike. In case you were wondering, the rule would allow players with ten years’ of service and the last five had to be with the same team to decline any trade. The Cubs had an agreement with the California Angels that would see Ron Santo head out west and in return the Cubs would get Andy Hassler and Bruce Heinbechner. He would not to play out on the West Coast and thus would veto the deal. Although the trade was vetoed, Ron Santo would not play for the Cubs in the 1974 season.

Before the start of the 1974 season, the Chicago Cubs were able to work a deal with the Chicago White Sox that would send Steve Swisher, Jim Kremmel, Ken Frailing, and Steve Stone to the Cubs for Ron Santo. One of Ron’s demands was that he stay in the Chicago area. However, the White Sox already had a third baseman in Bill Melton. Ron Santo would end up becoming the designated hitter, which he hated with a passion. Ron Santo would end up retiring at the conclusion of the 1974 season at the age of 34.

Ron Santo would end up not making his presence known in the Chicago area again until 1990. It was then that he would become the WGN radio color commentator. He would end up working with people like Pat Hughes, Harry Caray, Thom Brennaman, Steve Stone and Bob Brenly. He would also have a brief tenure with Wayne Larrivee, who was the color commentator of the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.

It became known after he played that he was suffering from diabetes. He would also become a well-respected man. From 1979 until his passing in 2010, he would end up raising $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In 2002, he would be awarded the Person of the Year by the foundation. Unfortunately, diabetes would end up taking another victim.

On December 3, 2010 at 12:40 am, Ron Santo was pronounced dead at a Scottsdale hospital from complications from bladder cancer and diabetes. It should be noted that Santo had slipped into a coma on December 1. The Santo family would end up having the funeral for Ron Santo on December 10. The people who would bring in his casket were some of Santo’s former teammates like Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Billy Williams.

Ron Santo would finally get into the Hall of Fame through the Golden Era committee and his wife, Vicky Santo, would end up accepting the plaque. It should be noted that one of the people on the board that would end up voting Ron Santo into the Hall was his friend and long-time friend, Billy Williams.

He would end up playing from 1960 to 1974 and played when the there was a lot of future Hall of Famers and legends like Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose, Lou Brock as just some of the examples. He would end up hitting 342 homers, driving in 1,331 runs batted in, and had a stat line .277/.362/.464. He would also end up being in nine all-star games and was the recipient of five gold glove awards.

Overall, Ron Santo meant a lot to the Chicago area and did a lot from them while he was playing for the Cubs and the White Sox. Although he didn’t have the star powers that many other ball players had, he still had a great career.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]