The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Ron Santo heads to the hall of fame in the sky

December 3, 2010 | 11:24 am

Ron_santo It's a sad day for all of us die-hard Cubs fans, hearing the news that Ron Santo has died of bladder cancer at age 70. Santo had a long and illustrious career with the Cubs, first as a clutch-hitting third baseman, more recently as a broadcaster, where he was a totem for all things Cublike, especially the lunatic optimism needed to remain a Cubs fan when it's been more than a century since we last won the World Series.

Santo was beloved not just for his upbeat nature, but for his tenacity, having battled diabetes for decades (forcing the amputation of his legs) before finally being felled by cancer. As a broadcaster, Santo was, well, pretty awful -- he often lost track of what was going on in the game and shamelessly rooted for the Cubbies, loudly moaning and groaning when our boys would drop routine fly balls or botch an easy double play, something they did with regularity. But you'd listen anyway, the way you'd listen to your favorite uncle telling whoppers about his Army days at the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Santo was easy to make fun of, because he'd often butcher the English language and stumble into slapstick situations, like the time his toupee caught on fire in the Shea Stadium press box when he got too close to an overhead space heater. But he was cherished because he wore his heart on his sleeve. If they made a movie out of his life, he'd be played by John C. Reilly, who exudes the kind of shambling, openhearted, easy-to-underestimate manner that gave Santo his Everyman appeal.

Saddest of all, Santo never got into the Hall of Fame, despite hitting 342 homers in 15 seasons and being one of the best third baseman of his generation. But he did get to see his jersey retired and hung on a flag on one of the Wrigley Field foul poles. I'm sure it's flying at half-staff today, because Santo might have worn No. 10 on his jersey, but he was No. 1 in our hearts. 

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: The Wrigley Field marquee pays tribute to Cubs legend Ron Santo after the nine-time All Star died Thursday in Arizona of complications from bladder cancer.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press