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Cubs great Ron Santo elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

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Updated: December 5, 2011 6:39PM

Ron Santo considered his retired No. 10 Cubs jersey flying over Wrigley Field in 2003 as his ``hall of fame,’’ failing three times to win induction into Cooperstown as a veteran player.

That it finally happened Sunday, a year and a day after his death, made it bittersweet when announced Monday, but no less thrilling for his family, friends and fans.

``We dared to dream this, because it was so important to Ron and such a long time in coming,’’ his widow Vicki said. ``But we’re all thrilled. When I got the call from the Hall and then Billy [Williams] got on the phone and said `Vick, we finally got it done,’ it made me cry.’’

Hall of Famer Williams, one of Santo’s longtime teammates and friends, was among the 16-member Golden Era Committee who elected Santo, receiving 15 of the 16 votes, surpassing the 12-vote minimum. None of the other nine nominees, including former White Sox great Minnie Minoso, received the necessary minimum, with Minoso receiving nine votes.

``What a glorious day for us,’’ Santo teammate Randy Hundley said. ``I’m thankful they finally voted him in, as it should be. It gives us a chance to share him with the world once again when he’s inducted this summer.’’

The ceremony in Cooperstown will come July 22 when Santo, who died last year of bladder cancer at 70, becomes only the 12th third baseman and 10th Cubs player in the Hall.

``I keep seeing his face in my mind,’’ his longtime WGN-AM broadcast partner Pat Hughes said. ``I can’t imagine that any other inductee would have been as thrilled on that podium as he would have been. I had the chills when I heard. It’s the same feeling he and I had when Kerry Wood had his 20 strikeout game. Late in the game, Ronnie looked at me and said `I have goose bumps.’ I had that same moment.

``It’s a day to celebrate. I’m delighted for his family and Cubs fans, and especially his grandsons.’’

Santo was known to many for his 20-year broadcast career as the Cubs’ analyst, and as much for the millions of dollars he raised to fund research into juvenile diabetes, the disease he had since he was 18 years old.

But his playing career was among the best of his era, from 1960 to 1974.

In his 14 years with the Cubs and one season with the White Sox, Santo hit .277 with 342 home runs (87th all-time) and 1,331 RBI and was a five-time Gold Glove winner and nine-time All-Star. He played his entire career despite Type 1 diabetes, never revealing his disease until the last years of his career. He was the first position player to play with diabetes, a disease that took a toll on his vision, his heart and late in life took both his legs.

But he became a champion of research in the disease, raising millions for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

``We feel he was meant to be in the Hall,’’ said Vicki Santo, who will give her husband’s induction speech. ``It will be about `never give up. Even with this coming after his passing, it’s about never give up. That’s what Ron was all about. This will continue the legacy of the heart he played with and all the good he did.’’

His son Jeff, who produced a documentary on Santo’s life and how he persevered after losing his legs, said the vote was `a good final chapter, but I think the happy ending already was there [with] his statue [unveiled last season outside Wrigley Field]. This is icing on the cake.’’

His daughter, Linda Brown, said the family’s joy was reflected in her two young sons, who screamed for joy at the news. ``This is great for his grandchildren and his fans. Now they have a chance to go on and celebrate his legacy. There’s no bitterness. His cause, which was JDRF, will go on because of this.’’

His son Ron Jr. said, ``I know how much he would be enjoying this and how proud he’d be. He achieved it on the field. We’re proud that now generations to come can go to Cooperstown and see his plaque. But I’ve always thought it was important, too, what he did off the field--for Cubs fans, for JDRF, for the community. He took pride in that, too.’’

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said tributes will be planned through the season to honor Santo.

``It was always like a missing piece of the Cubs puzzle,’’ he said of Santo’s election. ``He was a complete player on the field and a complete person off the field. We feel great for the Santo family. We’re all looking forward to July. We’ll be there and I’m sure thousands of Cubs fans will be.’’

Blackhawks president John McDonough spent a lot of time with Santo during his 24 seasons with the Cubs.

“This is a day that many of us dreamed of,” McDonough said. “It’s almost imperfectly perfect. I think in Ronnie’s mind the sequence would have been: Hall of Fame, jersey retirement, statue. But it didn’t work out that way and I’m not sure if it was supposed to.

“I remember how excited he was when he had his jersey retired. He thought that that was going to be the culmination, that was going to be the highlight of his career. And then last year the Cubs erected a statue of him and now today going into the Hall of Fame. I’m sure he’s aware of it. He and I had so many discussions about it because I think at the end his spirit was somewhat broken. He never thought that this day was going to come. He’s very much aware of it. He knows about it.”

The voting committee included Hall of Fame players who were Santo’s contemporaries, including Williams, Henry Aaron, Juan Marichal, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Tommy Lasorda; other Hall members Ralph Kiner and Pat Gillick; major league executives Paul Beeston of Toronto, Bill DeWitt of St. Louis, former White Sox executive Roland Hemond who is now with Arizona, Gene Michael of the Yankees and Al Rosen, who is retired. Media members included Dick Kaegel from Kansas City, Jack O’Connell, who is executive director of the Baseball Writers Assn., and veteran Chicago baseball writer Dave van Dyck.

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