AND TEARS FOR RON SANTO
February of 1969, the phone rang at the home of the Dantona
family. 12-year old John answered and the caller announced
himself as Ron Santo. "Right," thought John,
"and Im Joe DiMaggio." Still he humored
"Ron" even when he told him, "Im
calling for Jim Dantona. I wanted to invite him out to
Scottsdale, Arizona this spring to work out with the Cubs."
"This guy is good," thought John, "even
knows the spring-training home for the Cubbies."
He took his phone number and promised to forward it to
Jim Dantona, Cub-fan extraordinaire.
1969, Jim was a svelte 165-pound second baseman with a
fire in his belly for the game of baseball. At 59"
many scouts admired his ability and his determination,
but few were willing to gamble on his small frame. Jim
had long admired Santo for his outstanding athletic gifts
and empathized with his hot-tempered Italian-American
confidence. And besides, he was a Cub. That already made
him larger than life in the eyes of Jim. So he took a
chance and had written Santo asking for his advice. Santo
did him one better, asking and receiving permission from
Leo Durocher to invite him to come and try-out with the
Cubs. While Jims cup of coffee with the big club
was short, the Santo saga continues to this day.
15 big league seasons, all but one with the Chicago Cubs,
Santo was a 9-time All-Star. He clubbed 342 home runs,
hitting 30 or more in 4 straight seasons, and finishing
among the top ten 7 times. He hit .300 or better three
times, led the league in on-base percentage and games-played
twice, even led the league in triples once. And back in
the days when batters worked to get a base on balls, he
led the league 4 times while finishing in the top ten
in 10 different seasons. But what made Santo the complete
player was his fielding finesse. With 5 straight Gold
Gloves at third base from 1964-68, he was the National
Leagues answer to Brooks Robinson. In fact, only
Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Buddy Bell have captured more
Gold Gloves while playing the hot corner.
played side-by-side with, and often in the shadow of,
future Hall-of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and
Fergie Jenkins, and for the relentless Leo Durocher. When
the Cubs excelled, Santo clicked his heels to the delight
of the Wrigley Field faithful. When they faltered during
the infamous collapse of 1969, he carried the weight on
his own shoulders, suffering ridicule and even death threats.
But the biggest challenge that Santo faced was not living
down the Cubs bridesmaid finishes in the late 60s
and early 70s. As the sun bore down on him each day at
Wrigley, his monumental challenge was much more personal.
Santo signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1958, at only 18
years of age. Just prior to reporting to the Cubs, he
learned he had diabetes. A chance of a lifetime was now
on hold because of a life-threatening disease. Santo did
what he learned to do so well in his playing career, planting
himself in the hot corner, facing his worst fears, and
establishing himself as a model for others. He kept his
disease hidden from the Cubs for years so that neither
he nor anyone else could use it as an excuse for failed
expectations. And yet, Ron Santo exceeded expectations
in his career, and by doing so he became a consummate
role model for so many whom suffered but dared to succeed.
Jim Dantonas second son, Robert was diagnosed with
juvenile diabetes at the innocent age of 14, Santo was
the first person to call the young man and offer support
and inspiration. Robert was scared and Jim was both frightened
and saddened. But once again that voice on the phone saying,
"this is Ron Santo" offered strength and hope.
Another clutch hit. Another All-Star performance.
the cruelty of diabetes caught up with Santo at 61 years
of age. Learning that the great Cub third baseman had
his leg amputated as the result of this lifelong battle,
a solemn quiet fell upon the Dantona household. Jim is
not ashamed to admit that tears have fallen for the man
who was his childhood hero, his spring training mentor,
and his sons personal guide. For the moment, he
was more than baseball legend. He was family.
have never forgotten the greatness or the kindness of
Ron Santo. When young John made his Confirmation at the
age of 13, he was confirmed under the name, Santo. When
Jim managed his Rotisserie Baseball team to its one and
only championship season, they triumphed as Santos Sluggers
and when the Veterans Committee votes each year for Hall
of Fame consideration, he will be lobbying hard to see
the great third sacker elected among the ranks of the
greatest. Finally, when Ron Santo returns to the Chicago
Cub broadcast booth he loves so much, and where he has
been since 1989, there will be more tears and a standing
in Wrigley Field, Chicago and also in Simi