It was the year of the Lord, 1968 and the Cubs were on our Black and White TV almost every day. I was playing baseball and it was only natural that the guy we watched the most was the fiery Italian kid at 3rd base, Ron Santo. He was barrel chested and not very fast, but he had soft hands and was tough. He'd knock the ball down with his chest occasionally and get the out at first. He was a good hitter with decent power, and altho he was slow, he'd try and stretch a single into a double with a headfirst slide. I can remember him once on a rainy day sliding into second and coming up short.
The Cubs were perennial losers but it didn't matter-he played every inning like it was his last. He was a very good fielder, setting records for most assists by a third baseman.
In those days the guys didn't get paid like they do today. Many of them had second jobs in the winter including an autograph circuit. They'd show up at your local Catholic church for a crappy meal and sign autographs. They'd tell a few stories and shake your hand. They were just like your dad, only they could hit a fastball 400 feet.
Ronnie started jumping clicking his heels three times as he ran off the field down the third base line after Cub wins in 1969. He did it the first time after a Jim Hickman walk off homerun and continued it until the last game the Cubs won while in first place that year. The Cubs collapse that year is forever etched in long time Cub fans memories.
He was the first player to wear a ear flapped helmet after getting beaned by Jack Fisher.
Ronnie struggled with diabetes throughout his life-but never publicly revealed it until 1971. He raised millions of dollars for charities involved with diabetes and eventually lost both his legs to it. He never complained or used it as an excuse for anything.
Ronnie later became the color announcer on Cubs radio after he retired. He announced like he played, with his heart on his sleeve. He lived and died with each loss, which is what real Cub fans have always done. He never lost his enthusiasm for life-or the Cubs. When a Cub was trying to score Ronnie would be yelling "c'mon, c'mon...." He was us, that guy, watching the Cubs every day, treating the fans like he was your personal friend.
Ronnie stats, according to noted baseball stats guy bill James, merited his inclusion to the Hall of Fame but he never made it there. He is eligible again in 2012, and my guess is he will get elected then. He's like all us Cub fans, eternally waiting for that reward that never comes.
Congrats on a life well lived Ronnie. You lived like you played, full of passion and like every day was your last. Say hello to Don Drysdale and my Dad and one day in the not so far future all of us can talk about that magical day we all were together in Wrigley Field.