Feb 24, 2016

Former Italian / American Hall of Fame Player: Ron Santo (1960-1974)

Ronald Edward Santo was born on February 25th, 1940 in Seattle, Washington. The six foot right hand hitting third baseman, was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1959 as an amateur free agent.  He played two pro seasons in the minors, before making the Cubs big league club during the 1960  season.

By 1961 he was a regular, securing a spot as the Cubs third baseman for next thirteen seasons. 

In that time he made nine All Star appearances & received voted for the league MVP six times. He would hit 20 or more HRs eleven times, including four straight seasons of 30 plus (1965-1967). He finished in the leagues top ten in that category seven times.

He would drive in 90 runs or better eight straight seasons, with four 100 plus RBI seasons. He was second in the NL in RBIs three times (1964, 1968-1969) but never led the league.

Santo did lead the league in walks four times, including three straight seasons from 1966-1968. He also led the league in sac flies & times on base three times, as well as on base % & games played twice. Not known for his speed, he also led the league in triples in 1964. 

In his 15 year career, Santo was a lifetime .277 hitter, batting over .300 four times, making three top ten appearances in the leagues hitting department.

He posted 2254 hits (160th all time) with 342 HRs (92nd all time) 1331 RBIs (93rd all time) & 365 doubles (237th all time). He drew 1108 walks (75rd all time) & posted a .362 on base % in 2243 games played (125th all time).

With all that offense, his defensive number may be more impressive. Defensively he was one of the best third baseman of his era, but he was over shadowed only by the Baltimore Orioles; Brooks Robinson.

Santo won five straight Gold Glove Awards in the sixties (1964-1968) leading the league in double plays six times, assists & put outs seven times each. He also set NL records for career assists (4,532), total chances (6,777) and double plays (389) at third base (all of which were eventually broken).

His 2130 games at third base are still 9th most all time. He has 4581 assists (5th all time) & 1955 put outs (13th all time). Santo turned 395 doubles plays (9th all time). He led the league six times in that category during his playing days. He also mad 317 errors (30th all time) leading the NL three times there as well.

Trivia: In a 1966  game, the New York Mets jack Fisher hit Santo with a pitch fracturing his cheekbone, during a Cubs team record hitting streak. Santo missed two weeks of action & returned wearing an ear flap on his helmet, making him one of the first players to do so.

On May 28th 1966, Santo hit a game winning, three run walk off HR off the Braves; Ted Abernathy to beat Atlanta 8-5 at Wrigley Field. The next day he hit another walk off game winner, beating Atlanta 3-2 in the 10th inning. It would be 45 years until another player (Albert Pujols) accomplished this feat.

1969 Heel Clicking: In 1969 Ron Santo & the Cubs were riding high, in first place for 180 games going into September. Santo was part of a Cubs infield that sent every player to that years All Star Game in Washington D.C.

In a June 1969 game, the Cubs were down 6-3 to the Montreal Expos. Although Santo grounded out in the inning, the Cubs came back to win it on a Jim Hickman game winning HR. Santo was so excited about the win, he jumped up, clicking his heels as the tea, walked off the field. Cubs then Manger; the legendary Leo Durocher. liked it so much, he asked Santo to continue the heel clicking after each win.

In July the New York Mets first got a glimpse of this, after a 1-0 win beating Tom Seaver, in the first game of a big three game series at Wrigley Field.

Ron Santo did his traditional leap in the air clicking his heels as the Cubs exited the field. This a week after Seaver's 'imperfect game" where he one hit the Cubs at Shea Stadium on July 9th. This did not sit well with the young New York Mets, who were getting cocky themselves as they kept winning. They thought Santos antics were it Busch league.

The Amazing’s went on to take the next two games at Wrigley, proving they were for real, coming within four games of the first place Cubbies.

Black Cat Night At Shea: In a now famous scene of the 1969 Mets season, Santo is seen watching a black cat run by him, in deck circle, one his way over to peer into the Cubs dugout. It has become known as 'black cat night" at Shea Stadium in September 1969. The black cat dropped his bad luck to the Cubs, during the Mets two game series sweep of Chicago, moving them within a half game of first place.

In the opening game, New Jersey born Cubs pitcher; Bill Hands threw at Mets leadoff hitter Tommie Agee to send a message. Mets Jerry Koosman answered by drilling Santo in his first at bat, in the second inning. Agee later followed with a two run HR leading the Mets to a 3-2 win. In September the Mets took over first place, Santo stopped clicking his heels on September 2nd, the last day his team was in first place.

Many have put him down for his over confident antics at the time & through the years. In 1969 after the Cubs collapse, the Amazing Mets went on to win the World Series. Santo finished 1969 with 29 HRS (8th in the NL) 123 RBIs (2nd in the NL) & a .289 batting average for the second place Cubs.

Santo was still productive in the early seventies but health slowly began to creep up on him as he reached 30 years old. He hit 20 plus HRs three times from 1970-1973, with four straight 70 plus RBI seasons. He hit .300 once (1972), with three .267 seasons. In 1974 he was one of the first players to decline a trade due to the new ten & five rule negotiated by the Players Union in 1972. He declined a trade to the California Angels but soon accepted a trade across town to the Chicago White Sox.

The Sox had slugger Bill Melton at third base & Santo was mostly used as a DH. It was a role he hated, but Manager Chuck Tanner would not sit Melton, who had previously had two 30 plus HR seasons himself. Santo was tried out at second base but it did not work out. He retired at the end of that 1974 season at the age of 34.

Health: Santo was diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager but hid it from the team in fear he would have to leave the game. He judged his sugar levels by his mood swings before the technology for diabetic detection improved.

He did not make it publicly known until "Ron Santo Day" in Chicago in 1971. The disease would eventually cause him to have both legs amputated & factor in to his death in 2010.

Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field 1971

Retirement: Santo was a Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster from 1990-2010. He worked alongside guys like Harry Carry, Thom Brennaman, Steve Stone & Bob Brenly. Santo became popular with a whole new generation of Cub fans due to his loyalty to the team.

Passing: On December 2, 2010 he passed away after complications from bladder cancer. At his funeral his casket was draped with his uniform #10, carried by former team mates Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Glenn Beckert & Randy Hundley. He was cremated & had his ashes scattered over Wrigley Field.

Ernie Banks, Ron Santo & Billy Williams

Honors: During his lifetime, Santo was one of the strongest candidates for the Hall of Fame who did not got in because he never won a World Series or hit some of the Hall's magic numbers. After his death, Santo did get elected in by the 2012 Veteran's Committee.

In 2003 his uniform #10 was retired by the Cubs & hangs underneath Mr. Cub’s Ernie Banks. He told Cub fans that this honor was more important on him being in the Hall of Fame. I 2012 a statue of him was erected outside Wrigley Field.

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