Zalusky: Memories of Ron Santo's first major league homer
A day before Independence Day 60 years ago, Ron Santo celebrated with a declaration of his own.
On July 3, 1960 at Wrigley Field, the 20-year-old rookie hit the first of 342 career homers in a 7-5 win against the Cincinnati Reds.
In the process, he waged an assault on the Reds battery, spoiling the honeymoon of the starting pitcher and reaching his milestone in front of the catcher who had shown him up two years earlier.
Santo's three-run shot before a Sunday afternoon crowd of 17,205 came in his ninth game as a Cub.
The Reds had taken a quick 2-0 lead in the first off Cubs starter Glen Hobbie, but the Cubs countered in their half of the frame. Richie Ashburn singled but was forced at second on a grounder by Ernie Banks. Banks moved to second on a single by Frank Thomas.
That brought Santo to the plate. His homer to left field was hardly a monster shot.
As Richard Dozer wrote in the July 4, 1960 Chicago Tribune, Santo "tagged a low line drive that barely had enough height to make it into the left field seats, spilling the contents of a bleacherite's liquid refreshment onto the vines while Santo jogged home with his first major league home run."
The honor of being Santo's first home run victim belonged to Cincinnati left-hander Jim O'Toole. O'Toole, a Leo High School graduate and the son of a Chicago police officer, had married his high school sweetheart, Betty Jane Wall, the day before.
Mike Havey, writing for the Society for American Baseball Research, said O'Toole, who would go 4-3 for the White Sox in 1967, had expected Jay Hook to start the game, but Reds Manager Fred Hutchinson gave Hook the hook and inserted the newlywed in the lineup instead.
O'Toole told Cincinnati sports writer John Erardi in 2003, "It was a terribly hot, humid day -- suffocating -- and, given the circumstances, it was one time I didn't want to be out there."
O'Toole said he even tried to get thrown out by plate Umpire Jocko Conlan, but the ump said, "O'Toole, I know you got married last night. If I've got to stay out here, so do you! Now get your (rear end) back out there and pitch!"
If Santo had greeted the groom with a cold shower, he also had plenty of cold water left for Reds catcher Ed Bailey.
Santo had grown up a short distance from Sick's Stadium in Seattle, at that time home to a Reds farm team, the Seattle Rainiers.
While a teenager, Santo spent his summers toiling in a variety of capacities for the Rainiers.
Ron's son Jeff Santo remembered, "He did all the jobs there. He was the bat boy there. And then he became the clubhouse boy."
Santo, a standout at Franklin High School, was given a chance to display his skills before the Reds, who were in town for an exhibition game against the Rainiers in 1958.
He took batting practice against Reds pitcher Don Newcombe, who broke his 31-ounce bat in half on the second pitch.
Bailey tossed him a 36-ounce bat. But the heavy weapon proved unwieldy in his hands, and Santo left an unfavorable impression.
As he returned the bat to Bailey, the catcher stung him by commenting, "This is what separates the men from the boys."
The barb left a mark. But Santo would get his revenge during his rookie season, although apparently not on that sultry Sunday in Chicago, but in Cincinnati.
He told the Chicago Reader that he stepped out of the batter's box and addressed Bailey, saying, "Remember me? I'm the kid you handed that oversized bat to in Seattle. You said, 'This is what separates the men from the boys.' Well, now I'm a man."
History takes some interesting turns. In 1965, the Cubs would make a trade with the San Francisco Giants. They would send Len Gabrielson and Dick Bertell to the Giants. In return, the Cubs received Harvey Kuenn, Bob Hendley and, yes, Ed Bailey.
Bailey played 66 games with the Cubs that year, including one memorable game against his old team, the Reds. On Aug. 19, Jim Maloney tossed a 10-inning 1-0 no-hitter against the Cubs at Wrigley.
In the lineup that day, Santo batted fifth. Batting sixth was Bailey.
Bailey, a six-time all-star who caught Juan Marichal's no-hitter in 1963 and hit a home run in the 1962 World Series, played only 5 more games after that 1965 season.
As for O'Toole, who went on to start games 1 and 4 of the 1961 World Series, losing both to Whitey Ford and the Yankees, he and his high school sweetheart would remain married until his death in 2015. Their marriage produced 11 children.