Archive: What's new? Santo hit with more suffering

Originally published March 3, 2005

Harry Caray might not have been the first to say it, but he may have been the first to really mean it.

In no uncertain terms, Caray let voters know that if they waited until after he died to elect him to the Baseball Hall of Fame, they could stick their Cooperstown placard in a ball bag.

Fortunately, Caray lived to see it happen. Let's hope the same will be true of Ron Santo, who again was denied passage to baseball mecca Wednesday.

Santo believes he will be around for many more biennial veterans committee votes, but he also knows the possibility looms of a posthumous election.

“I don't know what to say about that,'' Santo said Wednesday afternoon from his cell phone, measuring his words carefully. “I know my boys really want it to happen. It would be a great thing for them.''

That possibility obviously steams Santo, as does the voting process, and as he sat for lunch with his wife, Vicki, on Wednesday, he tried to hold down his temper and his sandwich.

“(Hall of Fame president) Dale Petroskey came to see me two years ago and he said how sorry he was for me,'' Santo said. “I told him that my main complaint is that the veterans committee only votes every two years.''

Santo stopped and laughed before continuing.

“Think about it: You have the older guys being voted on every two years and the young guys every year. It should be the other way,'' said Santo, finding reason to chuckle just minutes after hearing the news. “I think there has to be a change in the system.''

Most observers aren't surprised that the veterans committee - made up of Hall of Famers - once again threw a shutout, since many Hall of Famers believe they should be the only members of their club.

But while some of us warned him of the dangers, Santo stood in the middle of the tracks just as he did two years ago and again took the freight train right between the eyes.

“This really hurt. It was a terrible punch in the gut,'' Santo said. “We didn't get the call until 11:30 (a.m. Arizona time), and the longer it went, my understanding was the better the news would be.

“It was awful - again. But my family sat me down and made me feel a lot better. They explained that maybe this is what my life was meant to be, and I still have a job to do and a lot to contribute.

“Maybe I was meant to go through all these things and overcome them and be an example to people who have difficult things they have to survive.

“I still would like it to happen, and I believe I deserve it, but I'm done sitting by the phone.

“If they stay with this system, that's the last time for that. I'll be out playing golf next time, and if they want to find me, they can try to find me.''

After the heartbreak of 2003, Santo seemed less inclined to get his hopes up again, but just as Cubs fans believe every year is the year, Santo gave in to temptation and started dreaming of his ceremony.

“I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and didn't get back to sleep until about 5 a.m.,'' Santo said, surveying the desert ranch in front of him. “It won't be easy sleeping tonight, but I have a game to call tomorrow, and as soon as I get to that game, I'll be fine.''

Jeff Santo, producer, director and writer of “This Old Cub,'' may need a little more time.

“As a family, I think we're done with it. I think we have closure on it,'' Jeff Santo said. “This one hurt worse than the last one.

“But you don't need the golden statue to know what you're worth. Martin Scorsese is 0-for-5, but he doesn't need the Oscar to know he's directed great films.

“My dad doesn't need the Hall of Fame. He's got that flag flying (retired No. 10), and that's from the heart. That's what matters.

“My dad has done so much in his life and he's touched more people than 99 percent of the people in the Hall of Fame.

“It's just funny that he had to use needles for insulin, and there's going to be a lot of guys in there who used needles for steroids.''

Of course, the Hall of Fame is not to blame for Santo being snubbed for years by the writers and now twice by the veterans, many of whom claim to support Santo. The vote totals suggest they can't all be telling the truth.

“That part hurts the most,'' Santo said. “I thought my peers ...''

He doesn't finish his thought because of the pain, which will be acute as long as Santo draws a breath. But he doesn't need an invitation to Cooperstown to legitimize his career or make his amazing journey through life feel complete.

“All I can think about now is getting back to baseball, back among the Cub fans,'' Santo said. “If people like me, it's not because of any of that other stuff anyway. It's because we have a connection and the way we feel about each other.

“As long as I'm here, I'll worry about them, the fans. I'll keep rooting for my Cubs. I'll keep working to help find a cure for juvenile diabetes.

“I mean, with all I've been through, the fact that I'm still here tells me someone thinks I have a purpose here.''

Perhaps, it's reminding the rest of us that life is about more than merely bringing home a statue.