My childhood took another massive hit today as Ron Santo, beloved former Cubs third baseman and ever optimistic radio broadcaster, died at age 70 from bladder cancer complications, following years of diabetes-related health issues.
And clichés be damned, nothing will ever be the same for the Cubs or WGN Radio.
There are already plenty of epitaphs for Ronny, so I don’t need to rehash anything that’s been said. It’s a sad day for any Cubs fan, especially because the team has come so close to winning it all in recent years, only to come up short. Those must have been crushing blows to Santo, who was always the team’s biggest supporter. And for anyone out there who claims to be the Cubs’ “biggest fan,” trust me, you have nothing on Santo’s half-century attachment.
I know I’ve got a hefty lump in my throat over this. After all, most years, Ronny was the best part of following the team. His exasperated sighs indicated when the team inevitably played like shit, and “aw geez” has become an instantly recognizable catchphrase among my group of friends. The second one of us utters those choice words, it’s an immediate tip off that something has taken an unexpected turn for the worse, just like when LaTroy Hawkins would squander yet another save opportunity in the ’04 season, or when Mark Prior would blow out his elbow time and time again.
The Cubs have a way of doing that just about every game, and no matter how much ire and faded-out swears they’d draw from Ronny, he’d always bounce back within an inning or two, confident they’d somehow pull off an improbable win. That type of ever present optimism worked perfectly as a metaphor for dealing with the shit that life throws your way. His stories about his toupee and player name mispronunciations were always hilarious, but it was his constant championing of the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation that were heartfelt reminders that baseball is just a game that shouldn’t impact our lives as much as it does.