Colleagues, friends recall Santo's special qualities

Reaction was heartfelt this morning to the news that Cubs legend Ron Santo died overnight at age 70.

Most of all, those who knew him remembered the good times and the laughs they shared with Santo.

“I never met anyone like him, I don't even know anybody close to being like him,” said Pat Hughes, the Cubs' play-by-play announcer and Santo's partner in the WGN radio booth for 15 seasons. “My mom said it very well. She said, ‘He's teaching us all how to age, because as we get older, we all have problems, and he's teaching us all how to do it.' I thought she put it very well, because he kept plowing ahead, no matter what.

“I talked to him the day before Thanksgiving, and we had a good talk and a bunch of laughs, as we always did.

“No, I did not see it coming. But with all the problems he had, it was not a complete shock. The moment I found out, it was a shock, if that makes sense.”

Santo died overnight in Arizona from complications from bladder cancer. Santo also battled diabetes for his entire adult life. He underwent heart bypass surgery in 1999 and endured the amputation of both legs below the knees.

“Unbelievable battle that he put up, wasn't it?” Hughes said.

Santo starred for the Cubs from 1960-73 and finished his career with the White Sox in 1974. He was known as one of the top third basemen of his day. He began a second career as a broadcaster in 1990.

Along with Hughes, he became a phenomenon on the radio. Whether they were talking about Hughes' wardrobe or laughing about Santo's hairpiece catching fire on a heater in the Shea Stadium radio booth, the “Pat and Ron Show” was a must-listen.

Santo consistently drew the biggest cheers when introduced at the annual Cubs convention in January.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, a lifelong Cubs fan, issued this statement:

“My siblings and I first knew Ron Santo as fans, listening to him in the broadcast booth. We knew him for his passion, his loyalty, his great personal courage and his tremendous sense of humor. It was our great honor to get to know him personally in our first year as owners.

“Ronnie will forever be the heart and soul of Cubs fans. Our thoughts and prayers today are with his wife Vicki and their family and we share with fans across the globe in mourning the loss of our team's No. 1 fan and one of the greatest third basemen to ever play the game.”

People around Santo remembered him for his generosity and genuineness.

“We were very close,” said Cubs TV announcer Len Kasper. “He was so good to me and good to so many people. We knew this day was coming at some point, but in a lot of ways, I always thought Ron would fight through it. It's a terribly sad day for fans everywhere. I really hurt for his entire family. I hurt for the entire Cubs family.

“He cared so much about this team, and some ways, he cared too much. But how can you care too much? He cared more than maybe some of the players did, and that's not necessarily an indictment of the players. It just tells you how passionate he was about the Chicago Cubs.

“It's the genuine nature of his broadcasts. As broadcasters, we all hold a little back. We all try to be ourselves as much as we can on the air. Well, Ronnie was 100 percent Ron Santo on the air. Anyone who knew him personally knew that, that it was unfiltered. And there were times when he would say things you weren't supposed to say on the radio. That's what made him so loved.”

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Cubs legend Ron Santo dies at 70

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