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William Van OrnumDecember 03, 2010

Part of America's mission is to find Christ in culture, so it seems natural to look for Him in in that part of culture not involving art, music, theater, or other written and visual arts: sports, and in particular--baseball. Today brings sad notice that Ron Santo, beloved third baseman of the Chicago Cubs from the 1960s, has died.

Ron Santo has been my hero since I was 9. When a batter lined a ball to third base at 120 miles an hour, Santo stopped it dead. When the Cubs, those greatest of losers, were down by five runs in dreary weather at the end of the eighth, Santo always seemed to manage a hit, and always ran from the dugout to third base like the World Series depended on it. If you have memories of Ron, you can leave them here.

In the late 1960s the Cubs started to win, and I worked at a task a boy could only dream of. Taking two buses and an elevated train, some friends and I would work for an hour or two as junior groundskeepers, walking the stands and infield with burlap sacks, to make sure the place was pristine for the 1:15 game. (For this, we got a free grandstand ticket.) I have stood near St. Peter's bones in the Scavi beneath the Vatican; standing on the Wrigley field infield and making it ready for Ron brought a similar thrill.

Oh, those clickin' heels! When the Cubs went into first place in 1969, Santo was pure happiness, jumping up at the end of the game, right into that blue summer sky, those strong legs and knees pushing him off the ground like the Saturn rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. Up went Ron, into aerial gymnastics, using his body and spirit to bring joy to others. None of us knew at the time that Ron Santo kept a secret to himself, one that those close to him protected.

Ron Santo sufferd from Type I Juvenile Diabetes, and both his legs had to be amputated after his playing career. He kept his struggles to himself. Because there was a lack of effective treatments for this disease, Santo had to devise a system of sneaking back into the clubhouse to eat various combination of candy bars to bring his blood sugar back to a level where he could steady himself, focus, and play the game. Santo went on to become a beloved Chicago radio announcer, helped raise nearly 50 million dollars for Type I Juvenile Diabetes, and has always expressed his gratitude for his own gifts despite his own pain.

Ron Santo has never been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In my mind he shares a special place with Joe DiMaggio (both Catholic athletes, I believe): of all the ballplayers I called out to for autographs, or wrote letters to, Santo and DiMaggio are the only two who responded, Santo signing my Bobby Shantz mitt personally and DiMaggio sending a postcard from San Francisco in his elegant handwriting. Let's pray for Ron and be thankful for the joy he brought to so many lives; he is one of those of whom it is said, "He was the pride of his generation; he was the glory of his times."

William Van Ornum


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michael slajchert
13 years 7 months ago
Ron suffered more than any human should have to, with his diabetes, his double amputations, his heart disease, his bladder cancer, and more, but he kept his suffering to himself to the same degree he shared his joy and enthusiasm with everyone else. The only pain he ever revealed was his shared pain with the rest of us Cub fans. The primal "Oh, nooooo" when Brant Brown dropped the fly ball that nearly cost the Cubs a division championship on the last weekend of the season, the "Jesus Christ, what are they doing?" that went into a live mic - Ronny wore his heart on his sleeve. I don't know how many times I've heard stories about the phone calls and visits he made to fans in the hospital, all with absolutely no fanfare or publicity. His dedication to JDRF was legendary; he would sign autographs at Walk for the Cure for hours, and the line always moved slowly because Ronny listened to whatever stories the fans wanted to tell him. He was always the slowest guy in a room, not because he was a double amputee, but he stopped to talk with everyone who said hi to him; they were all important to him. In an era of high-priced, unapproachable stars, Ron embodied every Christian virtue you could name; he played the game at the highest level imaginable, but was the humblest of men. I can't imagine Wrigley Field without him. The again, I know he'll always be there.
we vnornm
13 years 7 months ago
Dear Mike,

Thanks for saying it better than i can. Remember how Brickhouse would lose it when Santo would hit a home run at the right time? "HEY HEY!  It's onto WAVELAND AVENUE! HEY HEY! Holy Mackerel!"

  best, bill
we vnornm
13 years 7 months ago
Thanks, Will.

Ronnie's wake will be at Holy Name Cathedral on Thursday afternoon and the Funeral Mass will be Friday morning also at Holy Name Cathedral.

Afterwards i will post relevant links.

William Bergmann
13 years 7 months ago
I'm a lifelong Chicago Cub fan (how's that for a theology of suffering!).  I watched my first game from the el platform at Addision street before they put up a partition.  And as a junior high kid, I rode my bike down to the Jewel Food Store in Waukegan where my family had moved, standing in line in the parking lot for over two hours just to get Ron Santo's autograph.  Although a couple hundred kids were ahead of me, Ron's smile was just as bright and his greeting just as fresh as if he had just jumped out of an air conditioned limo (There was no limo. That wasn't the Cubs and that wasn't Ron Santo.). I felt so special to have that autograph, even more special that he said hi to me.  It was one of the greatest moments of my childhood. He was great-a great baseball player, a great Cub, and a great man.  The old song still rings in the memory; ''Hey Hey Holy Mackeral, No doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way!''  They may be on their way Ron, but you've made it.  God bless you and rest in Peace!

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