Diagnosed with diabetes at age 18, Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo was told he had, at best, seven years to live. Saddled with gray expectations, he optimistically embarked on a pro baseball career that lasted until age 34. All of those seasons — save one — came on Chicago's North Side where Santo became one of the franchise's most popular players ever.
But despite significant evidence on his side, Santo's career accomplishments so far have not granted him entry into baseball's Hall of Fame. As he famously waits, hopes and [probably] prays for induction, he concurrently does the same for his favorite baseball team, which hasn't won in 100 years — in case you hadn't heard.
Q: Why are you such an optimist about the Chicago Cubs when they've given you so few reasons to be one over the years?
Ron Santo: Well, that's not true; why I'm an optimist is because what they have done for me in my life. I've been a Cub all my life. I came up here when I was 20 years old and spent my whole career here in Chicago. I've always been an optimist, I believe you have to be in order to survive, to be honest with you — in health, with what I've been through. That's the way I am. I'm a Cub fan and I sit up here and I know when we have a good team, I know when we're struggling and it affects me just like any other fan and I just happen to show it on the radio. I can't help it.
Q: If you could pin your popularity on one reason, would that be it?
RS: I think so, yeah. I think that's it and also playing here for 15 years, and the popularity also has to do with what I've been through in my life with diabetes — losing my legs, open heart surgery, a little cancer bout. I think I've inspired a lot of people and I'm one if I get a letter and someone's in serious shape, I'll call them. I relate to these people.
Q: Sometimes, on the air, you seem to lose yourself in the moment — like when Brant Brown dropped that ball against the Brewers in Milwaukee in ‘98. Are there times you forget you're on the air?
A: Then, I definitely forgot. It was the emotion of the game, knowing how big it was. I watched the play and when he dropped that ball, my heart dropped. I didn't even realize that I went, "Oh, no!" until the next day. When I heard it for the first time, I swear to God, I thought somebody died. The guy on the other end of the phone interviewing me on the radio was laughing about it, and I'm just getting over this game. It's still in me, and I go, "Oh, you think that's funny? Well, maybe you think this is funny. Boom! [hangs up imaginary phone]."
Q: OK with you if Mark Cuban buys the Cubs?
RS: First of all, I'd really rather not discuss that. Has nothing to do at all with Mark Cuban or anybody. I just don't want to make a statement. I'm not going to pick out someone and go, "Yeah, I want him" to buy the team — because that's not the way I feel. I feel like the [other MLB] owners and Bud Selig will pick the right guy because they know how important the Cubs are.
Q: They might go for a billion dollars — are they worth it?
RS: I've never heard of anybody in baseball paying that much. ... I know what Sam Zell's doing. He bought the Tribune and he's got a lot of debt to pay. He's the first one to talk about selling the ballpark and the franchise. If they were to do it that way, I would not feel good about it. Whoever buys this club — and will it go for $1 billion? I doubt it — but whoever buys it, would want to buy the ballpark with it. I believe they could get anywhere from $800 million to $1 billion.
Q: You ever thought about being a part of an ownership group?
RS: No. I'm just a Cub.
Q: Are you familiar with the Mexican wrestler/superhero El Santo?
RS: Who? What's his name?
RS: Nope. Well, first of all with him being Mexican and me being Italian, no. I do know that "santo" means "saint" in Mexican, and it means the same in Italian.
Q: Did you destroy Sammy's boom box? Would you have, if someone else didn't?
RS: I have no comment on that.
Q: Interesting. Are Gold Gloves really made of gold?
RS: No [laughs]. Gold Gloves are painted. They're very nice, they're gorgeous. I've noticed the improvement [in quality] since my time.
Q: Why was your season (1974) with the Sox so miserable?
RS: It wasn't the organization at all. It was just a very tough adjustment for me. I wanted to stay in Chicago because of my family. I wanted to play, maybe, two more years. I turned down a lot of clubs. I knew the Sox had Bill Melton and I wasn't ready for DH'ing. I "had" to play third; I couldn't just DH, no way, I told ‘em. Chuck Tanner said that I'd be playing third, first — where Dick Allen was. I took their offer, but I lost my enthusiasm for baseball — not because I was a Sock — but I just didn't feel the same. At Wrigley Field, I move [emotions] up a notch.
Q: What was Dick Allen like?
RS: Dick was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He could be the nicest guy in the world. He just had moments.
Q: The first season you were eligible for the Hall, so few people voted for you that they dropped your name from the ballot. Was that the most disappointing thing about it?
RS: I was shocked that I only got 4 percent of the vote. And I kept my mouth shut for the first time. I didn't say anything. It took me a while to get over that. When I was leaving this game, they brought up "Hall of Fame" and stuff. Five years later, they put me back on the ballot and the board of directors apologized, but now it's 10 years after I played. So my timing for the Hall of Fame, right there, hurt me.
Q: If the Cubs of your era go to a World Series just one time, are you in the Hall of Fame already?
RS: I don't know that. I can't say that. Let me say this. I believe very strongly — and I never brought this up as a player — but I put up, I feel, Hall of Fame numbers with diabetes. If I didn't have diabetes — nobody realizes that, when I was diagnosed at 18, even the doctors didn't know what to do about diabetes. I took insulin but I didn't have anything to check [insulin/blood sugar] and I played with it and got through 15 years. In that era, that was the best pitching in baseball history.
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