Ronny, Kong, and the Bull

As with previous months, I was fortunate enough to be included on the mlb.com/blogs list of top fan blogs for the month of March. It’s an honor to be in the company of so many passionate baseball fans, and it’s good that all of us have a place to learn about who else is doing this. I always take making the list as an opportunity to write something related to the number I get, and this month it’s the number 10.

The Cubs retired the number 10, to honor Ron Santo, near the end of the 2003 season. Unlike Santo’s Hall of Fame induction, which will happen posthumously this summer, he was alive to enjoy this honor that was bestowed upon him. This Cubs fan, and doubtless a few others, were gratified when Santo finally got the call to Cooperstown last winter, but were equally peeved that he didn’t live to see it happen. But many Cubs fans will be on hand to let the surviving hall of famers know how beloved Santo was, and still is.

I don’t have any recollection of Ron Santo as a player. He played during my lifetime, but I wasn’t yet aware of him when he retired after a season with the White Sox in 1974. I date the beginning of my baseball fandom to the 1975 season, so Santo as a player, and I as a fan, were ships passing in the night.

If Ron Santo had retired to the golf course, and maybe an occasional autograph signing or Cubs Convention appearance, then he probably would have been the equivalent of Don Kessinger or Randy Hundley, who were both long-time Cubs that I had heard of, but don’t have any emotional attachment to. But to paraphrase Robert Frost, Ron Santo chose a different path, and that made all the difference.

Beyond his impressive career statistics, Ron Santo was unique among major league players. He was a Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetic who hid his condition through most of his career. He believed that if his condition became widely known, he would have been forced to retire. I can’t imagine having to carry around a secret of a deadly disease, the way Santo did.

In retirement, Santo turned his notoriety as a ballplayer into a radio broadcasting career, and a role as a spokesman for raising money for JDRF. Every time a Cubs player drew a walk, for years and years and years, Santo would remind us radio listeners that Walgreens would make a donation to JDRF and his Walk for the Cure. As the brother of a Type 1 diabetic, I am very appreciative of the way Santo used his position to raise both awareness and money  for research to cure this terrible disease.

As a result of Santo’s efforts, as a broadcaster and a fundraiser, he endeared himself to a new generation of Cubs fans. Listening to Cubs games on the radio–as I’m doing right now–still isn’t the same without hearing his voice. That will change with time, I’m sure, but heading into the second season following his death in late 2010, I’m still hoping I’ll hear his voice somehow.

After Santo retired, a series of Cubs players wore Santo’s number 10, including Dave “Kong” Kingman in the late 1970s, and Leon “Bull” Durham in the 1980s. I have some recollections of these two players, and perhaps I’ll share them here at a later date. But for now, I appreciate Ron Santo, I’m relieved that he finally received the Hall of Fame honors that he deserves, and I’m grateful to have an opportunity to reflect on the importance of number 10 for a Cubs fan.

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