Ron Santo Hall vote brings mixed emotions

Ron Santo suffered nearly constant pain and misery during the final decade of his life, but the worst of it wasn't physical.

It wasn't the numerous heart problems. It wasn't the bouts with cancer. And it wasn't losing both legs to diabetes.

Seriously, this was a man who chose to cut off a leg before a sore on his foot could delay the start of his broadcasting season.

Physically, the man was a beast.

No, the worst was the emotional torture of consistently believing he'd make it into the Hall of Fame, only to be disappointed over and over again. It's something he desperately wanted — and needed.

“I can't explain that feeling,” Santo told me in August 2001. “It's something that fills you up and completes your career. I've always said I wouldn't want it to happen if I was dead, so I hope I live that long.”

He did not. But now the latest incarnation of the Veterans Committee is on the verge of its first vote, and his family has mixed emotions.

“It's hard to explain exactly what it meant to him,” his son Jeff said Wednesday. “I guess it was the fight to be accepted.”

When you spoke to Ron Santo about this topic, he struggled to find the words, battling through the hurt to describe the significance.

“What he never got over was that he didn't win a World Series,” Jeff Santo said. “I think he felt like the Hall of Fame, because of that, was the only thing that would finally allow him to be acknowledged with the best who ever played.

“That really mattered to him and it was a constant fight throughout his life after (playing) baseball to get that acknowledgment. He felt that respect from the players he played against in his era, but he never got that from outside the game.

“Deep down, that was a real source of pain for him.”

Hard to imagine someone who accomplished as much as Santo did in baseball, business and life never was comforted by all he had done, that he believed it was an unfinished life without that appreciation.

“He never got to take a deep breath and say, ‘I won a World Series.' He never got to climb that mountain and take that deep breath,” Jeff Santo explained. “The Hall of Fame would have been that deep breath for him.

“This is about being counted as one of the greats of all time. He longed for that recognition. That's what's so hard about it.”

Perhaps coming tantalizingly close was part of the equation. Just as he was about to arrive before a Veterans Committee that seemed inclined to vote for him, the committee and rules were changed in August 2001.

And then the newly formed committee of Hall of Fame players — his peers — passed on Santo four times beginning in 2003, when it became painfully obvious he would never get enough votes from that group.

Now he needs 12 of 16 votes Monday from the “Golden Era” Veterans Committee made up of eight Hall of Famers, five baseball executives and three writers.

There is growing optimism about this vote, that this will finally be the one.

Maybe it will, but the Santo family and his legions of fans have been down this road many times before, when there's been strong public support from the voters. The private vote has never proven the speechmaking genuine.

So while this vote certainly looks promising on the surface, it only takes five against to keep Ron Santo out of the Hall of Fame again.

“It seems like the right guys are there this time to get him in, guys like Billy Williams and Hank Aaron and Brooks Robinson. They've all supported him,” Jeff Santo said. “But until it happens, I'm not going to believe it.”

The timing is typical for the Santo family, which recalls this Saturday the anniversary of Ron's death, on the heels of a very quiet Thanksgiving.

“We've been having it at my sister Linda's house the last few years and my brother Ronnie came in (to Arizona), so that was good, but my dad was such a huge presence at the table for the kids and grandkids,” Jeff said. “It was quick. We did it quickly, let's put it that way. We're thankful for what we have, but it's just really difficult.

“Last year at Thanksgiving, he had gone through his first chemo and wasn't doing too well. He had decided to try one more the Monday after Thanksgiving, and that's when he really started to go downhill fast.

“A few days later he was gone. That part of it is all very fresh. There's so much to think about this year with Father's Day and the statue and now (Thanksgiving) and the Hall of Fame and Christmas. It's a lot.”

What remains to be seen is the family's reaction if Santo does reach the Hall of Fame just a year after his passing, knowing how despondent he was over missing out while he was alive.

“I was talking to my sister about that yesterday and we think he'd want us to celebrate it,” Jeff said, measuring his words. “He never got to celebrate a World Series with us and never got to celebrate the Hall of Fame with us.

“It would have been a big sigh of relief for him. I think it would have been the happiest day of his life.”

ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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