Ron Santo: An Appreciation, And The Passage Of Time

Former Chicago Cub third baseman Ron Santo speaks to the fans during a retirement ceremony for Santo's uniform number 10 before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The former Cubs third baseman passed away almost two years ago, before he could celebrate his Hall of Fame induction. That's both sad and a lesson for the rest of us.

In recent years, I've written quite a few things about Ron Santo -- when he passed away in 2010, when he was elected to the Hall of Fame last year, and why he'd always deserved Hall induction, here at Baseball Nation at the time of that vote in December 2011.

So what can I now write, on the bittersweet day of Ron's Hall induction, that will be different? I say "bittersweet", of course, because Santo was highly qualified for Hall induction five years after he retired from baseball in 1974, yet he was denied the honor until a year after he died. This, you already know.

This post isn't intended to lament that; instead, Sunday is a day to celebrate Ron's baseball career and life, a life well lived. Ron's family, Hall of Fame teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, and thousands of Cubs fans will be in Cooperstown to honor that career and the memory of a man who squeezed everything he could out of 70 years of living. That was the case whether he was exchanging hilarious non sequiturs in his role as sidekick to Pat Hughes on WGN radio's Cubs broadcasts, or playing major-league baseball at All-Star level for over a decade despite fighting juvenile diabetes.

I guess that's my point. Most of you know Santo only as Hughes' broadcast partner. I am old enough to remember most of his playing career, watching him as a kid after school on WGN-TV most spring and summer afternoons, and later, in person at Wrigley Field. It is a sobering thought to me to realize that unless you are more than about 45 years old, you likely know Santo's playing career only from this impressive stat page at baseball-reference.com.

The numbers speak for themselves, but the passage of time I mentioned is important, too. Time goes quickly for everyone, but you'll surely notice it more as you age. I know I have -- the years seem to go by faster for me now, as I'm in my 50s, than they did 10 or 20 years ago. The years went by far too quickly for Ron Santo, as he waited and waited and waited for the call that never came.

Santo's life and baseball career will be celebrated Sunday afternoon, and in the future, visitors to Cooperstown will see a plaque with his achievements in the Hall of Fame, along with the soon-to-be-more-than-300 others so honored. The plaque, and his name, will remain for people to see there forever. Sunday is thus both a sad and happy day. The biggest lesson, for lack of a better word, from this day is: when you have a chance to celebrate things with people who are important to you, don't fail to do so while they're still here, as the poet Joni Mitchell once wrote:

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone

The world is a lesser place without Ron Santo in it. Celebrate his life and memory today, and don't forget to honor those important to you who deserve those, while they're still living.

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