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Who will be Ron Santo's successor in Cubs' broadcast booth?

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Who would you like to see succeed Ron Santo?

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Who will succeed Ron Santo?

That’s the delicate, pressing decision facing WGN-AM officials as the Cubs near the start of spring training and the first spring radio broadcast scheduled for Feb. 27.

It has been the underlying question since the Dec.  2 death of the revered Cubs legend whose career as a colorful and emotional radio analyst surpassed his years as an All-Star player — 20 seasons in the booth, 15 on the field.

‘‘Successor,’’ not ‘‘replacement,’’ is how the decision is being cast, given the unique bond Santo had with fans and his co-workers, especially partner Pat Hughes.

‘‘It’s going to be a different atmosphere and call,’’ said Hughes, who teamed with Santo for 15 years. ‘‘I still miss him, and I will every day for the rest of my life. He was a big part of my life and my family’s life.’’

Hughes, who delivered the moving and humorous eulogy for his friend, has a message not for his next partner, but for fans.

‘‘Please, please, give the new guy a chance and let us grow as a team,’’ Hughes said. ‘‘It’s almost like it will be for the new manager, Mike Quade. In my mind, it’s the same. Let them have a chance to be themselves. They’ll make mistakes — we all do. But give them a chance.’’

The choice apparently has come down to Dave Otto and Keith Moreland, both former Cubs who have worked in the booth as fill-ins when Santo was sidelined.

Former pitcher Otto, 46 and a Chicago-area native, has the most experience with the Cubs, having worked as Santo’s most frequent substitute. He also spent two seasons on the television side working with Chip Caray in 2001 and 2002 when Steve Stone was on a medical leave.

Moreland, 56, also has subbed on radio and occasionally on TV broadcasts. The former outfielder, who played six seasons with the Cubs, has been the baseball broadcast analyst for his alma mater, the University of Texas, for 16 seasons and for Texas football for nine seasons.

A decision may be a week or more away.

‘‘We don’t start broadcasting until the [spring] games start,’’ WGN general manager Tom Langmyer said. ‘‘We’re closing in [on a choice]. I would expect we’ll be announcing it sometime before the first [broadcast] game.’’

Like Hughes and Santo, the analyst will be a WGN employee, although the Cubs will sign off on the choice.

Hughes will be consulted, though more for his thoughts than to make a decision.

‘‘Whoever the new guy is, I hope the audience gives him a chance,’’ said Hughes, whose comedic banter with Santo came to be called ‘‘The Pat and Ron Show.’’ ‘‘He’s not going to be as entertaining or as popular. Ronnie was one of the all-time icons of Chicago sports. You have Ron and Billy Williams and Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg and Gale Sayers and Mike Ditka and Dick Butkus and Walter Payton and Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. They are the pantheon of Chicago sports.

‘‘And the chemistry thing we had, it didn’t take long to develop, but it did take a few years to perfect.’’

Hughes, who signed a five-year contract extension in December, will begin his 29th season as a major-league broadcaster and 16th with the Cubs. For most of those years, he has been as much straight man as play-by-play man to iconic partners.

‘‘I’ve had an amazing career — I spent 12 years with Bob Uecker [with the Milwaukee Brewers] and 15 with Santo, and five years doing Marquette basketball with Al McGuire,’’ he said. ‘‘And Harry Caray overlapped us in the radio booth for two years. You talk about four amazing characters, and I’ve learned from all of them.’’

But he has no interest in upstaging his next teammate.

On the contrary, ‘‘I want him to shine,’’ Hughes said. ‘‘I’m not worried about my job. I’m not concerned about how much air time I get. I’m not territorial. I want the whole broadcast to be good. I want our engineer, Matt Boltz, and [third voice] Judd Sirott to do well. And I want my partner to be relaxed and have fun and be himself.

‘‘Of all the things I’m proud of in my career, it’s that two guys who worked with me are full-time broadcasters in the majors — Andy Masur [with the San Diego Padres] and Cory Provus [with the Brewers]. And I want the new guy to be as big a success because in the long run, it’s good for all of us.’’

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