Winning evening for Santo
The first and only word that came to mind Wednesday evening on first look at the Ron Santo statue was "stunning."
On a perfect evening with a gentle breeze coming off Lake Michigan, the Cubs unveiled a statue depicting their former third baseman and radio analyst, who died last December at 70.
The Cubs and sculptor Lou Cella outdid themselves on this one.
Instead of depicting Santo in a hitting stance, this statue has him getting ready to fire the ball to first base, no doubt to nail the runner by a step-and-a-half.
The touches of blue in the statue are perfect for a man who bled Cubs blue for 50 years.
Perhaps the best part of the whole deal was that although Ronnie isn't around to enjoy the statue and soak up the adulation that was in the air, he knew it was coming.
Cubs president Crane Kenney told Santo about the statue last year, after the Cubs unveiled one of Santo's teammate, Billy Williams.
"He was so excited," said Ron's wife, Vicki, who related Ron saying, "Vicki, do you realize what a big deal that is? He said, 'I can't believe they would do that for me.' He couldn't wait to call the kids and tell them the good news."
Vicki's short speech Wednesday was eloquent, as was the one delivered by Ron's son Jeff, who kept with the theme of Ron fielding the ball and throwing it. Jeff said that in making a documentary about his father's life, he came across an instructional video Ron made of playing third base.
"He said this: 'When the ball is hit, you should always be moving forward on the ball. Never stay back on the ball and let the ball play you. You play the ball.'"
You knew what was next.
"That's how he lived his life," Jeff said. "He never stayed back on the ball. He was always moving forward. Every challenge. All the adversity that came his way, he charged it like he was making a play at third base, grabbing it with his bare hand and firing it to first base.
"This statue really does symbolize that."
That adversity included juvenile diabetes and later heart and bladder illnesses.
No evening honoring Ron Santo would be complete without mention of Santo being denied entrance to baseball's Hall of Fame while he was alive. The hope among Santo backers is that he will receive the honor posthumously.
Santo's Hall of Fame teammates Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Williams were in attendance as were teammates and close friends Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert, who performed the unveiling.
And in another classy and touching show of support, many of the current Cubs attended the ceremony, with pitcher Kerry Wood (and his family) staying to the very end.
It was Williams, though, who touched poignantly on the Hall of Fame topic.
"The one thing I hoped I could have visualized was that Fergie, Ernie and myself, we were sitting at the Hall of Fame," he said. "And the vision of Ronnie walking up to the podium to be introduced, 'Ronnie, you are in the Hall of Fame.' I wish I could have visualized that."