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Cubs announcer Pat Hughes knows how much Hall meant to Ron Santo

PHughes said RSanfelt he was very close making Hall Fame before he passed away. | Sun-Times

Pat Hughes said Ron Santo felt he was very close to making the Hall of Fame before he passed away. | Sun-Times

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Updated: August 21, 2012 6:39AM

Pat Hughes took his seat in the home radio booth Thursday at Wrigley Field and gave serious consideration to the question about Ron Santo.

No one outside of his family was closer to Santo during the last decade of his life than Hughes. If anyone truly knew how Santo felt about being consistently passed over for the Hall of Fame, it was Ronnie’s radio partner for nearly 15 years.

We all know how Santo tried to put on a happy face in recent years, shrugging off Cooperstown’s constant cold shoulder, stressing that it wouldn’t change his life.

Hughes knows the truth.

“I know how much he wanted it,” Hughes said.

Hughes swiveled around in his seat and looked around the tiny booth that offers one of the grandest views at Wrigley.

“Every day for the last 10 years of his life,” Hughes said, “there would be at least one person that would come in here — an opposing broadcaster, a former ballplayer, a fan — and they would say, ‘Ron, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.’ The players would all say, ‘I voted for you. I don’t know why you’re not in there yet.’

“After a while, he heard this so frequently that he could taste it.”

Even after having the Hall’s door slammed in his face 19 times, Santo deep down believed his day would finally come.

It arrived Dec. 5, when Santo was voted in by the revamped Golden Era Committee. The decision was announced one year and two days after Santo died at 70.

The Hall’s doors finally will swing open for Santo on Sunday, when the old Cub will be enshrined with Barry Larkin in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is throwing a Cubs Fan Fest in Cooperstown on Saturday to honor Santo. The casual party will be held on the lawn of Cooperstown’s Fenimore Art Museum from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Hughes — making his first trip ever for induction weekend — will host the event along with Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert and the Ricketts family.

It’s exactly the kind of party Santo would’ve loved.

And it’s the kind of party Santo believed should’ve come years ago.

“He felt like he was very close,” Hughes said. “I know he wanted to be in the same place as his celebrated teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins.

“But beyond that, he wanted to be in there with the others from what I would call the golden decade of big-league ball. The National League of the 1960s was full of some of the all-time greats — Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson.

“And he wanted to be in that group because he competed against all of those guys. And he was as good as anybody in that decade if you go back and do the statistical analysis.”

Santo never had to do a statistical analysis. He just knew he belonged.

“I know this would have meant a lot to Ron,” said Andy Masur, another former radio partner with Santo who now works for the Padres’ broadcast team.

“He got his hopes up in 2003 when the veterans committee changed the voting rules, and from that point on, he didn’t talk about it much.

“He tried to put it out of his mind, and every time a writer or reporter would ask him about it, he would say that of course it would be an honor to get in, but he wasn’t going to stop what he was doing to wait for the news.”

Masur recalls how Santo would often say having his No. 10 retired at Wrigley was his true Hall of Fame.

Most of us took that as Santo’s brave front.

Hughes — again — knows better.

“For the 99 percent of the other players, you’re right, Cooperstown is the ultimate and the greatest honor,” Hughes said. “But for Ron, the uniqueness of his love affair with this city, this ballpark, this group of fans, I think it was a tossup.

“If you were to ask him in 2005, after he had his number retired and before he was voted into the Hall, which was more important, I think it really would have been 50-50.”

Now Santo has both.

He just never lived to see it.

“Unfortunately, he just didn’t live long enough to experience it.” Hughes said. “But I know how much it meant to him.”

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