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Paying tribute to Ron Santo

A treasure to children, adults alike

When I was 7, I took a black marker and wrote ''Santo'' and ''10'' on the back of a plain white T-shirt.

That's the sort of thing we did in those days. If there were jerseys for sale in the 1960s, I didn't know about them. And who needed one anyway- Someone pointed out to me that I had written the ''1'' backward. I thought that was quibbling. I was Ron Santo. Why couldn't they get that-

Several years ago, I was talking with him about his playing days. He said that he used to live among other working stiffs in Bellwood and that kids often would knock on his door to get his autograph or to talk about baseball. He'd oblige. Even as a grown-up, cynical sports columnist, I was stunned. Had I only known!

Had I known -- and had I possessed a better means of transportation than a Schwinn bicycle -- I would have made the short trip from Oak Park to Bellwood. The idea that it would have been possible to meet Santo in color never would have occurred to me back then.

A few years later, 1969 arrived like a scythe. Santo had another strong year, finishing fifth in the Most Valuable Player voting, but the Cubs didn't play well down the stretch. I believe you know the rest of the story.

I won't forget that. But I also won't forget that Santo cherished the memory of talking with neighborhood kids during those simpler times. It told me he was what I thought he was all those years ago. The best.

Rick Morrissey He cared more than anybody in Cubdom

During a lost 2006 season in the losing clubhouse of the National League Central's last-place team, a telling scene unfolded.

The Cubs had just imploded against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing three runs during an ugly eighth inning to blow a lead. It was Sept. 25, a getaway day in Cincinnati, and the 5-4 stinker was just another setback on the way to a 96-loss season. Manager Dusty Baker already knew he was a goner. The players -- even losing pitcher Scott Eyre -- were giggling in the clubhouse as they packed, joking about the skimpy dresses and ''big boy'' bunny outfits rookies were forced to wear for the trip as part of an annual hazing ritual.

It took about five seconds for the sting of that loss to wear off for a Cubs team that had given up on the season long before. Until Ron Santo stepped into the clubhouse.

The smiles vanished, and the giggles were concealed. Santo was steaming, still clearly shaken by how the Cubs had let another one get away. So what if he hadn't worn a Cubs uniform since 1973- So what if the loss didn't matter- Santo was the only one in the room who cared.

No one cared more about the Cubs then. And -- with his unique perspective as a player, broadcaster and No. 1 fan -- no one ever will care more about the Cubs than Santo did.

Chris De Luca He took losses harder than the players

It was my first season on the Cubs beat -- Lou Piniella's first season as their manager (2007) -- and it took all of seven weeks for me to understand what everyone meant when they talked about Ron Santo's relationship with the Cubs.

The Cubs had just lost two of three games in San Diego and appeared headed to the same kind of oblivion they found in 2006. They opened a three-game series at Dodger Stadium by fighting back to score seven runs in the seventh to take an 8-5 lead, only to give up four in the eighth to lose 9-8.

There was plenty of irritation and anger in the clubhouse after the game, but it was in a corner of an otherwise-empty dining room in the back of the press box that the most anguished man in the building sat. Santo sat alone with a beer, red-faced, frowning, inconsolable and barely able to mutter a greeting without spewing a stream of colorful -- and occasionally off-color -- reflections on the outcome.

Having watched a dozen broadcasters covering three other teams through the years, I'd never seen one take a loss that hard -- harder than the players.

As much as he talked about how the Cubs kept him alive all these years, the bigger wonder might be how he made it 20 years in the booth.

Gordon Wittenmyer Reporter remembers his kindness

Ron Santo was a big part of my late-1973 entrance into Sun-Times baseball coverage. I reported to the ballpark in Pittsburgh for a Labor Day doubleheader as a replacement for the regular beat writer, who was on vacation.

Santo, who was in his final season with the Cubs at age 33, came in from infield practice to say: ''You must be the new reporter. Have you met all the guys- ''

I had not, so around the batting cage and into the clubhouse we went, with Santo introducing me to manager Whitey Lockman and his coaches, then to most of the players.

The Cubs lost both games that day en route to fifth place in the National League East, but Santo's friendliness gave this young reporter a feeling he had made a new friend. He had.

Joe Goddard Hero-turned-friend was special indeed

My brother and sisters and I were getting back to our Wrigley Field seats after a rain delay. The Cubs were in need of runs, as usual. Ron Santo was coming up with men on base.

''If he hits a homer, I'm buying his pizza,'' my brother said.

Moments later we were jumping up and down, gleefully screaming for the Pro's Pizza vendor.

What a hero he was to us as kids. And then the hero became a friend.

There are many memorable moments and meetings that come with a career dealing with newsmakers. But there are few people who become special, the ones you come to hold dear for who they are as much as for what they have achieved.

Ronnie the baseball player unquestionably should have been elected to the Hall of Fame -- and I was lucky the first ballot I was eligible to cast still had his name on it. But Ronnie the man was a treasure beyond words for how he cared about others, how he made you laugh without intending it, how uplifting he was.

Your health, not his, was always his first concern after he learned you had gone through a challenge. And when he learned one of your family members had been ill, he was doubly concerned.

For all his unbelievable strength in fighting diabetes, I remember the worried look in his fatherly eyes when one of his own children was dealing with a health issue. He was so human, yet he was superhuman.

And he was a hero-friend.

Toni Ginnetti