Ron Santo, who was beloved in Chicago as a Cubs third baseman and broadcaster but was never was able to gain entry to baseball's Hall of Fame, died Thursday night at an Arizona hospital of complications from bladder cancer. He was 70.
Santo had overcome several debilitating injuries, including the amputation of both legs, and a lifelong battle with diabetes to continue to work as a Cubs analyst on the team's flagship radio broadcast on WGN-AM.
On the air since 1990, Santo epitomized the long-suffering Cubs fan, frequently grousing about the play on the field when things went bad, and made no apologies for his on-air cheerleading or his utter frustration over a Cubs misplay.
"I'm a fan," he explained last summer. "I can't plan what I do. I get embarrassed sometimes when I hear what I said, like, 'Oh, no, what's going on?' But it's an emotion. This is being a Cub fan."
Santo never witnessed his longtime goal of election to baseball's Hall of Fame despite career numbers that mark him as one of the game's all-time great third basemen. He had a .277 batting average over 15 major league seasons, with 342 home runs and 1,331 runs batted in.
Though Santo came close to Cooperstown enshrinement in the last decade in voting by the Veterans Committee, he always fell short.
"I'm just kind of fed up with it," Santo said after missing the cut again in 2007. "I figure, 'Hey, it's not in the cards.' "
Santo was born Feb. 25, 1940, in Seattle. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 18 but did not reveal his condition until years later.
He earned National League Gold Glove awards five straight seasons from 1964 to 1968 and was a nine-time National League All-Star. He was one of the leaders of the 1969 team that blew the division lead to the New York Mets, a season indelibly etched in Cubs' history.
Though Santo never made the Hall of Fame, his number was retired by the Cubs. He said that was equivalent to being inducted in Cooperstown. Being a Cub, and playing at Wrigley Field, meant the world to Santo.
"When I got here, two years after my senior year, I'm walking out of the corner clubhouse with Ernie Banks and there's nobody in the stands, and the feeling I had was unbelievable — walking with Ernie and walking on that grass," he said. "I felt like I was walking on air. There was an electricity and an atmosphere that I'd never experienced in my life. Any ballplayer that's ever played here can tell you about that great atmosphere, and anybody who's come here to watch a game feels the exact same way."