There was a lot of love in the room Thursday as a panel of those who knew him best and a crowd of several hundred gathered to toast the late Ron Santo at Drink Nightclub in Schaumburg just days before the popular former Cubs player and broadcaster is to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
There were plenty of laughs at the Daily Herald sponsored event as the panel, which featured Santo's son Ron Jr., broadcast partner Pat Hughes, former teammate and longtime friend Randy Hundley, Daily Herald Cubs beat reporter Bruce Miles and L. Patrick Reedy, the executive director of JDRF in Illinois, joined columnist Barry Rozner in sharing some of their favorite stories of the man Cubs fans adored for so many years.
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Hughes got 'em going by retelling the famous moment in Shea Stadium when Santo burned his hairpiece on an overhead heater in the broadcast booth.
Ron Jr. continued by recounting how his father had trouble adjusting his eyes when going from light to dark and on one particular night at the movies with the family paid the price by accidentally sitting down on a man's lap, thinking it was an empty chair instead.
But along with the laughs, there were plenty of poignant moments as well for the more than 300 in attendance for the luncheon tribute, including many Subscriber Total Access members who were guests of the Daily Herald Media Group. Additional key sponsors included Porte Brown, LLC and Moretti's.
"It's hard to imagine his enshrinement is going to take place without him," said Rozner, the emcee for the event, which raised $1,540 in donations for JDRF of Illinois.
"It was amazing what he had to go through just to get to the ballpark," Ron Jr. said. "You and I and most people probably would've given up."
Hughes recalled being a little on-edge about coming to the large market of Chicago after years of working in the relatively small market of Milwaukee and receiving a call from Santo the night before the pair were to debut on WGN radio.
"Ronny calls and says, 'I want you to relax … you're going to be great,'" Hughes said. "And you know what? When I hung up the phone, I was no longer nervous.
"I thought to myself, what a thoughtful, considerate gesture. I'll never forget it."
Reedy spoke in awe of the power and energy Santo brought to his fundraising for JDRF.
"He helped raise over $60 million," he said. "He never said no to an autograph, and never said no to talking about diabetes."
The Santo name continues to attract support for JDRF, and Thursday's tribute was a chance to raise more money through donations from portions of the sales of John Hanley's custom portrait of Santo. Custom popcorn tins by Chicago Kernel featuring Santo's No. 10 were donated for the event and a percentage of proceeds from sales will go toward JDRF as well.
Miles declared that all anyone needed to do to know what Santo was really like was to "turn on the radio." He was as genuine as they come, Miles said.
But before the afternoon turned into a complete lovefest for this old Cub, Hundley, in his own inimitable way, made sure it didn't.
"I'm going to get on him today," said the man known as "The Rebel" as he glanced up to the heavens. "I don't give a flip. He was a pain in the fanny to play with.
"I fell in love with him after we got out of the game, but as a player, he was a major pain in the fanny."
Hundley said he'll join many other Chicagoans at Cooperstown on July 22 for Santo's enshrinement. The Daily Herald will publish a special section that Sunday to honor Santo's achievement.
Rozner reminded everyone of Santo's impressive numbers on the field, and Miles noted that even though Santo stayed away from the game for a few years, he had three highly successful careers.
Whether it was as a player, a spokesman/businessman or a broadcaster, Santo brought the love. And when he finally gets enshrined next week, a large contingent of fans will be there giving it all back to him.
Hughes recalled a quote he likes to recite when talking about good ol' No. 10.
"A great man is someone who never reminds us of anyone else," Hughes said. "That certainly applies to Ron Santo."