Category Archives: Ron Santo

A handshake, a smile and a conversation with my hero, Ron Santo

RIP, Ron Santo

September 1999. The Cubs are out of it.

But we — my best friend Mike and myself — are in it. “It” being our longtime destination of all time — Wrigley Field.

A throwaway late-season series between the Cubs and Cincinnati Reds was meaningless for much of the baseball world. Two teams going nowhere, even if Sammy Sosa was having another monster year after an MVP season in which he led the Cubs to the playoffs.

Looking back, the Cubs, with too many September roster expansion players who had no business on a Triple-A field, let alone in Wrigley (Ruben Quevedo, anyone?), treated the series for exactly what it was. After a towering Sosa three-run shot onto Waveland Avenue in the first game on Friday — Mike and I could trace the ball’s flight from 20th-row seats behind home plate for our very first Wrigley experience — the Cubs didn’t score again for the rest of the weekend. Our first trip to see our boyhood beloved Cubs, and they go the last 22 1/3 innings without touching home plate. We were swept out of our first Wrigley visit.

Honestly, that didn’t matter so much to us. We got to see the cathedral, the Church of Baseball, and despite the long faces that appear in a couple of postgame photos we had taken of us behind the Cubs’ dugout, Mike and I look back fondly on the trip.

And Ron Santo was a huge reason why.

Sunday’s game was an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” game, for reasons probably lost on the network itself. Ryne Sandberg sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Seventh-Inning Stretch (Caps are necessary for this at Wrigley) and we had a great view of him leaning out of Harry’s window. Mike and I had seats along the third base side, low in the upper deck, between third and home. It was a beautiful Chicago night (if you don’t count the baseball), with a brilliant view of the North Side skyline beyond the ivy and bricks.

After the game, Mike and I lingered in our seats. We had to leave at 5 a.m. for the drive home the next morning, but wanted to soak as much of Wrigley in as we could. We were two of the last the leave.

Ronnie always said what we fans said -- only he had the microphone.

A great thing about Wrigley is that the stadium is so simple. Even the bathroom troughs have some charm. The concourse, especially at that time, was the only way for fans to get to the upper deck, or for the media to get to the pressbox. We watched Sandberg walk out after the 7th, in fact. And, if you are early enough to the ballpark, you might catch a player on his way into the clubhouse.

Finally, with the brightest lights dimmed, Mike and I left our seats and walked toward the breezeway. We make the first turn on the way down, and here comes Ronnie.

Santo is my biggest baseball hero. By far. Of course, he’s one of the greatest Cubs of all time. In fact, though Cooperstown is less of a shrine without him, he’s one of the game’s greatest third basemen. But that was before my time. I loved Ronnie for a lot of the reasons people my age loved Ronnie — he is a Cubs icon, as much for his playing days as for his radio broadcast career on WGN Radio. Ronnie can’t just be called a homer, which he was, because was the ultimate fan, only with a microphone in front of him. When Brant Brown missed the easy fly ball that would have put the Cubs into the playoffs a day earlier in 1998 (thank you Neifi Perez), Ronnie said what the rest of us said: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”

But Ronnie was more than that to me. My mother fought juvenile diabetes for most of her life, as did Ronnie, in a time when few people, not to mention doctors, really understood the disease. When Santo played ball, he didn’t always treat his diabetes with insulin; many times he ate a candy bar and drank a coke. For six years, even his teammates didn’t know he played with the disease. Knowing all that, go back and look at his numbers again.

And so Santo’s unbelievable charity work for diabetes hit home with me. My mother went through two major heart surgeries, a kidney transplant in 1985 (she was her surgeon’s 50th transplant patient), numerous eye surgeries that still couldn’t save her sight in her left eye and intense pain in her extremeties. She eventually lost her fight four years ago, but along the way, Santo had his own heart trouble, had both legs amputated, and finally, on Dec. 3, 2010, lost his fight to bladder cancer.

Neither were ever known to complain about the illness. Ever.

But 11 years before this sad day, Ronnie was walking toward us, striding, I can still see through my teary eyes this morning, on his own legs. There’s no one around us. No one. It’s that late after a sold out baseball game. Somehow, we muster up the courage to say hello to Ronnie.

And Santo stops cold. “Hey guys, where ya from?”

One of us: “North Carolina.”

Santo: “Really? That’s great. You came all the way here from North Carolina?”

Me: “We even drove it.”

Mike: “Yeah, we were here for the whole series.”

Santo: “No kidding? Wow. Sorry we couldn’t have played better for you boys.”

Mike: “That’s OK. It’s nothing new.”

Santo: “Well, you got that right.”

Me: “Thanks, Ron. Thanks so much.”

He shakes both of our hands. “You guys be safe going home, OK?”

“Yes, sir.”

If only Ronnie had some clue as to what I meant in saying thanks. If only I had the time or the nerve to tell him why I had to say thanks.

But hell, I could barely breathe.

Mike and I still talk about that moment, and we laughed and cried with Santo for the next several years thanks to the beauty of MLB broadcasts on XM Radio. (“Hey, did you hear Santo when we couldn’t move the runner over in the fifth?” “Yeah, he was still groaning about it and saying, ‘Geez!’ in the 11th.”)

Today, though, we’re mostly crying.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to shake my hero’s hand. I didn’t need a picture. I didn’t need an autograph.

I had a moment with the man. And, on his way home, he was kind, generous, engaging and actually interested in what my best friend and I had to say.

Just because we were good fans.

Ron Santo, I will miss hearing your voice when the days are warm.

But I will never forget what it sounded like.



I'll miss you, Ronnie.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Ron Santo, Sports columns

The PODcast will return

Eventually, we’ll be back on the air with the only sports talk radio show in Sanford.

Unfortunately, with Central Carolina Community College closed the past couple of weeks, we’ve been unable to broadcast the PODcast.

But fear not, we will return next week on Jan. 7 at 9:30 a.m. on WDCC 90.5 FM to discuss the second round of the NFL playoffs and much, much more. So please tune in.

Also, there have been a few questions about the previous couple of shows that haven’t been uploaded here. Unfortunately (at least for the three of you who come here to hear the shows) the last two shows were not taped, so they are lost on the radio airwaves. But that’ll change by next week and they’ll be back on this site.

Also, we’ve had some issues with past episodes disappearing on this site. Please know that I’m working to rectify that as well.

As always, thanks for listening, and I’m looking forward to a great 2009 in sports talk radio in Sanford. I hope you are as well.

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My Letter to Santa

Just in case I missed something around the tree and he needs to swing back by the house…

Dear Nick,

OK, let’s be clear about one thing.

I haven’t been good this year.

That whole “knows when you’ve been sleeping, knows when you’re awake” thing?

I know. I know what you’ve seen. Worse, I know what you’ve probably heard.

And it hasn’t been good. 

Not good at all.

But you know that already.

I guess I’m asking you to look beyond all that, especially the stuff that happened in early April and October. Because all I want for Christmas are assurances. Nothing else.

No toys. No flat screens. No money.

Well, OK, if there’s a chance at money, well, who am I to turn that down? So that would fine. Not deserved, but fine.

But I digress.

Two things I’ll ask for, and that’s it. And I know it’s a lot. Too much to comprehend, perhaps.

But wanted just the same.

Because I thought there was a chance I was getting these things last year.

And then I didn’t. 

Close, but agonizingly ripped away.

Let’s talk about this past April first. Because if I’m willing to bargain, it’s over this. When the North Carolina Tar Heels fell behind by 26 freaking points in the national semifinal against Kansas while Roy Williams stood and watched, all I wanted was one thing.

Not for a miraculous comeback, which almost happened anyway. I knew the Heels weren’t nearly bad enough to keep playing the way they were, and even though I knew Kansas was scary good, I knew the Jayhawks wouldn’t keep shooting 70 percent from the floor.

So I thought, if the Heels could trim the deficit to 15 or so by the half, they would have a chance. And that just about happened. After cutting it to 17 at the break, North Carolina got all the way within four points before Kansas pulled away again.

But now that the Heels have everybody back from a team that might have been the best in the land last year except for one night, they are far and away the favorite to win it all this year.

And they might. Then again, they might not. But Nick, I’m not asking for another national title for my alma mater. 

I just want, sometime during the NCAA Tournament, to have the ability to force Roy to call an appropriate timeout when desperately needed. That’s it. Just give me that ESP for one moment come March and April. 

Because if I have to sit through another 19-0 run without a timeout to settle things down in the most important game of the season, the words that will come out of my mouth will … well, probably closely resemble the ones that came pouring out in October.

And that would ruin things for next year.

That said, I know I’m asking for a lot here. So, like I mentioned earlier, I’m willing to give that request up if I can get a return on this next one. Seriously. How’s that for the giving spirit?

Wait, don’t answer that.

Look, Nick, we’ve been down this road before. It’s the same thing every year. You know it before I even have to say it. 

The Cubs, Nick. The Cubs.

I thought you were coming through this year. Honestly, I did. I mean, I know I talked a lot about how they would crumble, because, well, they always do. So I kind of figured it was coming.

But then it did. In crushing fashion. Again.

Again.

So let’s lay this out there, Nick. In 2003, it was Bartman. In 2005, it was a collapse in the last 10 games to lose the wild card. In 2007, a three-game sweep in the first round. In 2008, the NL’s best record, but yet another three-game sweep.

And that’s when the torrent of bad behavior flowed. And, probably, the exact moment when you moved my name from the “Kinda Good Except For April” list to the “Coal” one.

Look, Nick, I know I don’t deserve it, but if there’s a Cubs World Championship somewhere on that sleigh of yours, well, you know the drill. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

And maybe I’m not the guy to ask. I get that. That “better be good for goodness sake” has kind of been lost on me, hasn’t it?

So do it for the good Cubs fans. The ones who believe every single spring that this is the year. Do it for Ron Santo, and people like him.

But since they’re probably asking for important things like world peace and ending world hunger, I’ll carry the torch for the Cubs.

Sincerely, Alex

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Ron Santo misses Hall call again

At 1 p.m. today, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced inductees of the 2009 Hall of Fame class, as voted by the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee. On the list of 10 possible inductees was my main man, Ron Santo, former Cubs third baseman and hero to all who have fought or have been touched in some way by the horrible disease of diabetes.

And once again, Santo didn’t have his named called.

I because a Cubs fan when I was 8, about the time Santo was finishing up what should have been deemed a Hall-worthy career a long time ago. But he is my favorite player, probably more for his courage off the field and his tireless fund-raising efforts to combat diabetes than anything. My mother died because of a life-long fight with the horrible disease, and it’s because of heroes like Santo, who continues to broadcast Cubs games on WGN Radio despite having lost both of his legs, that give us all hope that one day diabetes won’t be as debilitating as it is.

I had the great forture of running into Ronnie on the breezeway at Wrigley Field in 1999, and he gave my buddy and I a story we will never forget, even apologizing to us for the way the Cubs had played in being swept in our first trip to Wrigley.

I wish he had finally made the Hall of Fame today. I still believe one day he will. I just hope he’s around to see it.

Because I know how cruel diabetes can be.

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The e-mail — I still believe

As Alfonso Soriano tried to check his swing, my faith that the Cubs would come all the way back in the NLDS against the L.A. Dodgers disintegrated. And it drew me to my computer to e-mail my fellow lifelong Cubs’ fans friends. I’m stung, to my core, but I know one day it will happen. Maybe this is catharsis, but here is that e-mail:

trade soriano.
 
i mean it. he’ll never help us against good pitching, therefore, never in the playoffs.
 
someday we’ll win it all. i know it. we may not see it, but someday we will win.
 
i truly believe kosuke will have a good year for us next year. first-year free agent cubs never have a good first year. just look at d-lee. but we need OFs. put de-ro in left and put fontenot at second.
 
that said, we have to trade soriano and see what we can get. resign demps as long as he doesn’t ask for too much, because he’ll never have another year like this.
 
i could cry, but i know that this will only make it sweeter when we win. check my blog on that. we are members of the greatest fan base in sports. we must live up to it. we must continue to believe.
 
honestly, we’ve enjoyed the greatest span of Cubs success in a century. we can’t complain. we will win, and when we do, no team, or its fans, will deserve it more.
 
and when ronnie makes the hall this year, i will get credentials and i will go. and after a good long cry there, knowing what ronnie and my mom went through as diabetics, i will know that as long as he believes, we must all believe.
 
my mom would chagrin dad and i for never having enough faith. i had faith until soriano’s terrible final at-bat. i will continue to have faith. i will never quit on this team. we can’t. it’s what we do. it’s who we are.
 
guys, we will win. it just won’t be this year.
 
just remember, we have something ahead of us no other fan of any other team has (except for the indians) — the joy, the pure ebullience, the passion of winning the perceived impossible.
 
wait til next year, and if we have to, dammit, wait until the year after that. it will be worth the pain of today to enjoy the joy of tommorow.
 
Alex

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Maybe ‘someday,’ it’ll happen for the Cubs

Don’t let anyone say that it’s just a game

 

For I’ve seen other teams and it’s never the same

Those are the first two lines of Eddie Vedder’s Cubs’ song, “All The Way,” his ode to Cubs fandom.

As you go through the lyrics of the song, which can be found on my blog, at http://www.designatedhitter.wordpress.com, you find that even though it will likely enjoy a short shelf life this October as the Cubs go quietly into the night, the song has captured the essence of the Cubs fan like nothing else. It works for the suffering Cubs fan. It works for the joyful Cubs fan. It just works.

Cubs fans have longed their entire lives to see their team win the World Series, and go “all the way”. Generations — plural — have literally passed without seeing it happen, but still we believe every April that “someday” is coming that October. Royals fans don’t believe that. That’s why this team is different.

And it’s why, looking at those first two lines, that Cubs fans know unlike like few others that it’s never “just a game” when the Cubs are playing.

My coworkers who had the misfortune of being in The Herald newsroom during Games 1 and 2 can tell you that neither was “just a game” to me, or to the poor, dented file cabinet.

 

We are one with the Cubs

With the Cubs we’re in love

Yes, one with the them. Even though today’s fan essentially roots for laundry — the uniform and the logo on it — Cubs fans believe every year that this is the year. It is indeed love. And when somebody you love lets you down, it hurts. But it’s love, so you always go back to them. Always.

 

And here’s to the men and legends we’ve known

Teaching us faith and giving us hope

Every Cubs fan should have XM Radio, just to hear Pat Hughes and Ron Santo broadcast home games on WGN Radio. Santo, the unabashed homer he is, can still be quick to criticize. But he’s also quick to believe that the Cubs can always come back, whether that means in the ninth inning, or from 10 games back in the standings. You learn as a Cubs fan that one can’t be loyal with having hope first. 

 

Yeah, hold our head high as the underdogs

We are not fairweather by farweather fans

We are like brothers in arms in the streets and the stands

 All season long, the Cubs were the favorites to come out of the National League and make the World Series. Now, they may be swept in the divisional playoffs.

Which means, again, the Cubs are underdogs. Like they always are.

But when times are tough, you stay. You believe. You think about the 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS and think, “Why not us, too?”

 

Ernie Banks said “Oh, let’s play two”

Or did he mean 200 years?

They are the most heartbreaking lines in the song. And possibly the most truthful.

Every Cubs fan knows that he may never see his team win it all in his lifetime. And every Cubs fan understands that he hasn’t lived through the worst, that somebody before him has endured much more pain and agony, and passed on.

But every Cubs fan knows that those who have gone before would gladly give those who come after them the joy of witnessing it. Why? Because every Cubs fan today knows he would do it for another.

 

United we stand and united we’ll fall

Down to our knees the day we win it all

That’s not all that would fall. Tears. Many, many tears…

 

When the day comes with that last winning run

And I’m crying and covered in beer

I’ll look to the sky and know I was right

That Someday we’d go all the way

No, the Cubs won’t be winning the World Series this year. And it’s tough for us, after knowing for months that our team would be playing in October with a chance to make it all happen. For it to all come crashing down again feels like the previous six months of baseball were a waste.

But they weren’t, and neither was the sloppy performance against the Dodgers. It’s gut-wrenching, yes. But a waste? No way.

Why? Because with every misstep, with every disappointment, the overwhelming joy when the Cubs do, someday, go all the way, will mean that much more.

And so we’ll wait.

Til next year.

Til someday.

Alex Podlogar is The Herald’s sports editor. Reach him at alexp@sanfordherald.com and at (919) 718-1222. Read his blog at http://www.designatedhitter.wordpress.com

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Filed under Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, L.A. Dodgers, Major League Baseball, MLB playoffs, NLDS, Ron Santo, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, World Series

Life as a lifelong Cubs fan

On the eve of another hopeful October for the Chicago Cubs, here, in nugget form, is a sampling of my life as a Cubs fan.

The parts you don’t see probably involved cursing.

7 years old. Lugoff, S.C. Summer.

Somebody called the “Cable Guy” is coming over to our house.

He comes in with a box and some tools. Drills a hole in the wall by the TV. 

An hour or so later, he’s gone.

But he left something.

Channels.

Almost 30 of them. You take this box with buttons corresponding to numbers, click a button, and a different channel comes on. The box has a cord running to the TV. No need to even get up from the couch.

But he left something else.

The Chicago Cubs.

One of the channels is SuperStation WGN, out of Chicago. I don’t know which superstation came first — TBS or WGN, but they are a 7-year-old boy’s dream.

On TBS, the Atlanta Braves are on.

But I never see the end of those games. They usually start at night, and end later at night.

But during the day, WGN has other games on. Cubs games. They start at 2 p.m. almost every single day. It seems like the sun comes up, and the Cubs play.

And every time the Cubs play, whether it’s during the brutally hot summer months in central S.C., or during the cool days of early spring or early fall, there is another constant.

The glasses. The garbled delivery. The funny way he tries to say players’ names backwards.

That laugh. That howl. That call.

“It might be… It could be… It is! Home run!”

That song, every seventh inning stretch.

I’m 8, but Harry Caray is funny.

I met my first love in 1983. A year later, the Cubs are good. Historically good for this franchise, I find out. I’m 8.

Sutcliffe. Fergie. Cey. Moreland. Matthews. Dennis Eckersley is a starting pitcher. Lee Smith is the closer, back before they called them closers.

Sandberg.

Durham. Oh, Leon Durham. Before Buckner was Buckner, there was Leon Durham. He lets the ball go between his legs, and the Cubbies lose the 1984 best-of-five NLCS to the San Diego Padres.

I go on to hate Steve Garvey forever.

13 years old. 1989. Finally, we are good again.

The Boys of Zimmer. It took five years of finishing no higher than fourth, but we’re finally back.

Sandberg’s a star. Mark Grace is becoming one. Shawon Dunston is either great or pitiful. Andre Dawson is one of the best in the game. 

Sutcliffe keeps doing it, but man does he have help. This Maddux guy is unbelievable. Mike Bielecki looks like an emerging star. Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams is a blue-collar Cubs hero.

Paul Assenmacher is still terrible.

This might be the year. The stories I’ve read about, the billy goat, the black cat. Those could be put to rest.

Grace is incredible during the NLCS. Bats .647 with 8 RBI in five games.

But Will Clark is even better. Bats .650. Thirteen hits in five games. It’s never close. The Giants go on to win 4-1.

And then the earthquake.

It’s kinda OK, though. Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year race. The future is bright.

16 years old. 1992. High school. I hang out with a group of friends. Meet another Cubs fan. 

We become friends for life. 

21 years old. 1997. College. The Heels have been great in football. Basketball, too.

But the Cubs. 

Oh.

My.

God.

Fourteen loses to open the season. It’s over before it even starts. By April 20, the season is gone.

My friends, all Braves fans, make fun of me and my team. Repeatedly.

22 years old. Harry Caray dies on Feb. 18, 1998.

I cry.

22 years old. 1998. I’m a working man now.

And so are the Cubs. Sosa and McGwire keep sending shots into the seats. The march on Maris is on. The Cubs are leading the wild card. Could it be?

Is this the year?

The Cubs need a regular season playoff with the Giants to make the playoffs. Gary Gaetti blasts a huge fifth-inning home run, and the balloon caricature of Harry behind the left-field seats makes us believe. The Cubs are in.

I get married on the day of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Braves. I see three innings on my wedding night. 

On a day I am swept off my feet by the most perfect woman, the Cubs are swept by the Braves.

Call it 1-1.

23 years old. 1999. The Cubs are horrible again, playing out the string against the Reds.

But I’m there. My first time in Wrigley. I’m there for the whole weekend series with my buddy from high school. Sosa homers and the Cubs lead in the fifth. We’re 20 rows up behind home plate.

The Cubs never score again that weekend.

But we meet Ron Santo the last night, coming down the ramp from the pressbox. The 14-hour drive home flies by.

27 years old. 2003. One win. One lousy win, and we reach the World Series.

Game 6 against the Marlins back at Wrigley. Mark Prior has been great, but he’s tiring in the eighth.

But there’s a looping fly ball in foul territory. Maybe it will stay in play.

I learn the name Steve Bartman, but I don’t blame him. Never will.

It’s shortstop Alex Gonzalez I hate. How did he muff the double-play ball after the Bartman mishap? How?

The Cubs lose in typical Cubs fashion. I break a ceiling tile at work after the disastrous eighth. I don’t sleep that night. 

I know Game 7 will be a loss.

32 years old. 2008. It’s been 100 years.

The Cubs stormed back to win the NL Central a year ago, but were swept out the playoffs again.

This year, though, they own the best record in the game for much of the year. They win the division with two weeks left. It’s been as easy a season for Cubs fan as there ever will be.

But October is looming. The playoffs are about to start.

Truly, it’s been the best two years to be a Cubs fan in a century. It’s a historic fact. It’s the first time the Cubs have been in the postseason in back-to-back years since 1906-1908.

And I’ve been around to see it.

Others weren’t so lucky. So many others. For them, it never happened. An entire lifetime, and the Cubs never won the World Series.

What makes me think I’ll be so lucky?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

I just hope.

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Filed under Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Ron Santo, Sports, Sports columns, St. Louis Cardinals, The Sanford Herald, World Series